How to include people with hearing loss in online video chats
As meetings, churches and communities move online it is easy for those of us with a communication disability to get left behind. Communication disabilities include hearing loss (diagnosed or un-diagnosed), auditory processing disorders, expressive and receptive language disorders and speech impairments; many of these are invisible and you may not realise you have someone struggling in your group. A lot of groups are turning to ‘Zoom’ for groups that would normally be face to face, find out how to use it here.
On Sunday night I was invited to a group zoom hangout, I knew I would only be able to hear 50% of everything said but I decided I should give zoom a go to see if I can still gain from the community. I learnt a lot in that hour or so about zoom, and what difference a caring, supportive group can make even if I don’t hear everything. Live captions for many will be the gold standard of access but unfortunately it won’t always fit into the budget so here are some tips I learnt on Sunday to create more inclusive spaces online.
Use a microphone
Hearing loss isn’t just about volume, its also about clarity. A person with good hearing can often push through background noise, static or echo and understand the speaker but its MUCH harder if you have a hearing loss. Just having a personal microphone close to your face can really improve the sound quality. You don’t have to go and spend hundreds though, it can be as simple as a pair of handsfree phone earphones with a microphone or any kind of lapel microphone worn on the collar.
Its sometimes impossible to avoid background noise especially if you have kids or a loud air conditioner. In a group video chat the amount of background noise going through the speakers all at once can be reduced by everyone who isn’t speaking pressing mute, so only one mic is on at a time.
Use Active Speaker Mode
If you have a hearing loss Active Speaker mode allows you to see the face of the person currently speaking in large and the faces of everyone else as small icons at the top. This makes it easier to lipread, make sure your group knows about the different modes, you can learn more about them here.
Think about lighting
Many people with hearing loss rely on lipreading to communicate but that’s really hard if your face is in a shadow. Sit somewhere that your face is well lit and make sure your whole face is in frame.
Use the Chat
Even in the best of circumstances there is sometimes a single word that I just can’t understand. You could repeat that word 100 times and I just can’t hear those sounds. If you find yourself repeating the same sentence more than 2 or 3 times jump in the chat and type it up.
Most people with a hearing loss take a little longer to process what they hear than everyone else and when we’re in a group conversation it can be really hard to keep up. Take your time in conversation, slow down how fast you speak and don’t change topics quickly.
Use the extra functions
In zoom there is a “raise hand” function where participants can click a button to “raise” their hand if they have something to contribute. Turning on “nonverbal feedback” through the settings unlocks extra buttons like “go slower” letting participants easily remind you to slow down if you forget. Using an extra function like this stops people from talking over the top of each other and makes sure that everyone has a chance to be heard.
Have a clear leader/facilitator
Have someone in the position of leading or facilitating the meeting or chat. This person can rotate, but they are the one keeping an eye out for any “raised hands”, making sure everyone has their say and that everyone is on the same page. It may seem formal and awkward but having one person responsible for leading the chat stops those who are struggling from being left behind and after a little while it stops being awkward.
Check in on any Hearing impaired group members
Don’t forget to check in on how your hearing impaired friend is feeling after these meetings or hangouts. Sometimes they can be left feeling more isolated than before if they haven’t been able to follow the conversation. Ask them if there is anything else you can do to keep them included, everyone has their own tips to making different forms of communication work.
A tip for the hearing-impaired participants
These meetings won’t be perfect, they will be hard and you’ll probably struggle at times. Be prepared for that and it makes it easier to cope with. When I approached that Sunday afternoon chat I went along with the attitude that I didn’t have to catch everything. If I missed 25% of what was said but could still follow roughly what was happening then that’s okay. You also won’t know how well you will cope until you try, so give it a go with some safe and patient friends. It won’t work for everyone and I’ve been there when I couldn’t hear in group chats face to face let alone online, but give it a try just once, see how you go and if it doesn’t work for you don’t be afraid to say so.
- Use a headset with a microphone or lapel microphone
- Mute your microphone when others are talking
- Make sure your whole face is well lit and in the screen
- Tell the group about the different viewing modes and let them find what works best for their needs
- Use the chat if someone is having trouble understanding a particular word or sentence
- Remember to speak slowly and don’t change topics quickly
- Switch on “Nonverbal Feedback” and use extra features such as “raise hand”
- Have a clear leader or facilitator who is responsible for checking that everyone is on the same page
- Check in on your hearing impaired friend or team member