Deaf awareness week 3-9 May

It’s Deaf Awareness Week next week, 3-9 May so now is a good time to clear up some misconceptions about what deaf people can do, how lip reading works and how effective hearing loops are. Have a think about how you might do things differently to make things better for our deaf colleagues and students, especially when running online meetings or seminars! The points below are from an interview I made just after lockdown in 2020 with a deaf academic with cochlear implants .

Mouse pointer hovers over the Enable Auto-Transcription button in a Zoom meeting
Enable Auto-Transcription button in a Zoom meeting

Cochlear implants and understanding speech

  • Someone with cochlear implants needs to combine the sounds they hear with lip reading to understand speech.
  • The essence of lip reading is eye contact and you don’t have that on live meetings, even with cameras turned on.
  • Long meetings are tiring as you have to concentrate to lip read. You lip read ‘bits of words’.
  • Keeping on topic is important – switching topics suddenly hinders understanding.

You can lip read some words, off the screen, but the essence of how to lip read is eye contact…That means that as the meeting goes on, it becomes worse, you know, your ability to understand.

Somebody might jump in and change the topic and then you can’t lip read; you can’t understand because your brain is trying to connect bits of words…You don’t lip read a whole word. You lip read bits of words and then your brain, using the knowledge of the topic, puts it together into what is likely the sentence.

Live captioning in online meetings

When you run live meetings and you have deaf colleagues or students, live captioning is vital.

I’ve been excluded from every Zoom meeting every… I’ve been very isolated and it’s very upsetting and eventually it goes from upset into very angry.

The other misconception is Zoom, you’ve got the video, what’s your problem? You can lip read. (See Cochlear implants and understanding speech above).

The Accessibility Coordination Group recommends that all virtual meetings have auto-captioning enabled as default.  This creates a shared responsibility for accessibility rather than individuals always having to request it.  When captions are auto-enabled, each participant can then choose to view or hide the live captions.

Guidance on auto-captioning on different platforms.

Face to face accommodations

Even in face to face meetings, accommodations are not well-understood.

  • There is a misunderstanding that a loop system helps a deaf person to hear everything in the room.
  • Front-facing room layouts can pose a problem for lip-reading in meetings or group work.
  • Loop systems only work for certain hearing aids.
  • The speaker needs to repeat any questions asked by the audience to enable the HI person to hear.

So I sit near the front, so I can actually hear them and lip read, which means I don’t understand anyone at the back; I have to turn around, all the time. So I said this room isn’t suitable for me.

So they’ll say, “There’s a loop system, what’s your problem?” Well, first of all loop systems only work with certain hearing aids. There’s a sweet spot in the room that you need to find where really where you need to sit. You’ll only hear when you’re using the T, the coil, you only hear the voice coming through the microphone. So when all the questions and things have been asked in the room. You don’t hear anything.

Become more deaf-aware

Here are some resources to help you become more deaf-aware. Next time you notice someone with a hearing-aid, or have the opportunity to speak to someone who is deaf, why not ask them about their experience?

Tips for Being Deaf-Aware: Part 1 – Ai-Media article

Tips for Being Deaf-Aware: Part 2 – Ai-Media article

Captioning resources

We encourage you to make your events more accessible by turning on live captioning in your Zoom meetings. Also check the captions on your recordings to ensure they are not littered with errors due to auto-captioning.

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