Last Saturday was World Hearing Day, so I showed a few shots of my Bionic Ear on instagram. Some people were shocked to see I had one! So I decided it was time to do a little updated series here about why I have one, how I got it, how I like it, and what life is like with one. Here are the previous parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
This is the meat and potatoes post.
First, let's acknowledge that deaf and hard-of-hearing people are often not accommodated. Curb cuts are put in at corners, even when there are no sidewalks. Braille on signs is ubiquitous. (although I know blind people often need things they don't get--like audible crossing alerts!) But captioning has to be fought for. The ADA doesn't require TV stations to caption things unless they get federal funding, for example.
So the first thing people like me need to do is ASK. And that's hard, I know. But we need to be more comfortable about saying, I'm sorry, I'm hearing impaired. I need accommodation. If we're not asking, we're definitely not going to get!
With that in mind, knowing what we know now, how can we, as individuals and society, accommodate or adapt what we do for people with hearing loss?
Here are a few suggestions. Some are for people, some are for institutions.
1. Be patient. I talked about this in the last installment, but please repeat yourself if you're asked to. Don't get angry. Also, you don't necessarily need to talk louder. Sometimes you need to be clearer. As in, speak slower, enunciate, look at me. Don't hide your mouth! It doesn't necessarily have to be over the top. It might take some adjusting. But please be patient.
2. Provide alternate means of contact. If you run a church or volunteer organization, for example, don't just provide a phone number. Provide an email address. If you just provide a phone number, I can't contact you, and then I can't help out. Say if texting is acceptable, too! (This last tip is for older people, who might have landlines only. Tell me if it's a cell number. If it is, then I'll try texting.)
(And a note: I can leave messages on voice mails. That's because I know to leave a message at the beep or when the voice stops. That's different than trying to talk to a person. Does that make sense?)
3. Provide a chat interface. This is mostly for businesses. If you only provide a phone number, I am screwed. And don't say, "Oh well we have a TTY!" I don't have a TTY. It's $250-600 for a TTY. Also, TTY use in general is declining as people have email and text. Folks. Come into the 21st century. Provide a chat interface on your website! (It's like how cars had tape players in them well into the early 2000s. Huh? A tape player? What?) Chat interface, the ability to place requests on a website (like AAA!), customer service email, apps....it's a wonderful new world of technology. Use it. Please. Look, if Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, The Disney Store, AAA, and just about every other e-commerce site can provide a chat interface, you can too, government people!
And do not tell me that it's not secure to do it any way but over the phone! I email my transplant nurses all the time for stuff--we're sending highly "private" health information over email. My bank has chat. I send sensitive financial information over chat! Come on! Don't tell me that the retirement agency or SSDI or whatever can't do the same thing. You can. You're lazy. That's what it comes down to. You. Are. Lazy. Don't be lazy.
Let me illustrate what happens when you are lazy, companies and agencies:
It means that I have to ask my parents to translate the conversation for us. It means that I have to fill out paperwork saying that yes, my parents are decent people and aren't going to lie to you about me. It means that I can't communicate with you on my own. It means that we have to set up times for me and a parent to talk to you, so that we can get something done. This means that my dad has to leave work early, or work from home, or leave for work late, so that he can help me here, or that my mom has to rearrange her day. It is a HUGE inconvenience to everyone.
If you provide chat interface, then we have none of these problems. It's all easy. And simple. And, dare I say, secure. (My dad is an IT professional. He deals with this stuff all the time. He knows. He can tell you the whole "It's not secure" argument is crap.)
4. Provide transcripts or closed captioning. If you're doing an online course, please provide captions or a transcript of what you're saying.
Video is tough. The sound isn't great, a lot of the time. The best way for me to understand someone, in general, is for me to "learn" your voice, and the easiest way to do that is to read captions while you talk. (Obviously, this is not in a real life scenario. :-p In real life, the more I listen to you, the more I learn your voice, your cadences, your vocabulary, and that helps me understand you better.) But until you get to that point--caption videos, or provide transcripts.
Also, video companies? Caption ALL THE THINGS. Don't just caption the movie. I like to watch the special features! And it should be illegal to release a video in the U.S. that doesn't have captioning. I mean, come on. TVs do have captioning--most of them. Some older ones don't. But that doesn't mean that they automatically caption videos or TV shows. They do not!
TV and movie folk: please caption your shows and your channels. Some of you don't. That means I can't watch you. Fix that, please.
5. Turn the captions on! If you're in charge of a waiting room, please turn the captions on the TV. It is so annoying to hear just mindless sound. Imagine a jackhammer going off around you constantly. That's what it sounds like. Or a baby crying. It's just NOISE. With captions, it's not noise anymore!
In the same vein:
Movie theaters: Provide captioning devices. Please. I like the movies too! (Marcus Cinemas does, for every movie. It's a godsend. So thankful they're my local chain!)
Airports: Provide a messaging board at all gates and in the concourses, so people can see updates. Provide a transcript of the safety talk. Really be aware of your hearing-impaired passengers and make sure they get the information they need. Write it down if you have to! It's no good for me to tell you I'm hearing impaired, and then you look at me like I have lobsters crawling out of my ears.
6. Put in a telecoil system. This is mostly for churches and other gathering places where people are using microphones. Telecoil systems are great!
7. Use microphones There are few things in the world that irritate me more than people who do not use microphones, when a microphone is easily available. Do not do the crappy, "oh, the acoustics are fine." THEY ARE NOT. You are being silly and denying people the ability to hear and understand you. Especially if the place has a telecoil system installed, use the microphones! Otherwise the telecoil system is no good!
If we're in a place that's echo-y, like a big meeting room or something, and you don't use a microphone, I'm lost. Most people do not know how to project. After a few minutes, I get very irritated and cranky because I have to work so hard to understand you. And if you do this continually I will stop coming to these events, because I will get irritated and angry, and sad, because I cannot hear and understand. And sadly, this seems to happen a lot with church stuff. So....yeah. I might be a leeeeetle annoyed about this.
Also, face out. Show me your face! If I can see your mouth, that helps. (See the last entry, which talked about lip reading)
If you don't have hearing problems, I want you to imagine being surrounded by a swarm of bees and trying to listen through that. Or being underwater, and trying to hear someone speaking above you. Now imagine that happening for an hour, two hours, three hours....you'll start to get some idea of what it's like to try to hear and understand people in this situation. It's mumblemumblemumblemumble. How long would you want to put up with that? Not long, I'd wager.
8. In design, think about acoustics. Places where there are metal floors, metal ceilings, metal everything? That's terrible. There is nothing to absorb the sound. It's one big sound magnifier. The ADA requires places to have wheelchair ramps and access*. Do the same thing for the hard of hearing. Think about it. It might not be "trendy", but you'll make me a lot happier. Have some carpet. Have some wood. Have things that absorb sound and don't make it so loud. (in the same vein--braille menus, y'all. Come on. Large print, too!)
9. Be understanding. It can be hard to have to work at hearing. Because really, it's work. When I've been in a group of people for a long time, I have to work hard to understand people, what's happening around me, etc. So if I say, hey, I gotta go, or I'm going to bed, don't be all "but it's EARLY!" Or whatever. My brain is very, very tired. I probably have a big headache. Just let me go. :)
10. Inclusion. We talked about this before. But if you're in a group with a hard of hearing person, make sure to include him in the conversation. If I ask you what's being said, please tell me. Don't ignore my request. It makes me angry. I love to talk. If I'm just sitting there, not talking, chances are it's because I have no idea what's happening and no one's cluing me in. This. Is. Sad. Please don't do that. :) That doesn't mean that you have to be all over me every five seconds. But do make an effort to talk to me! Because otherwise, SADNESS!
I think I've covered everything...is there anything else you want to know? Drop it in the combox and I'll answer!
* Doesn't mean they do it well....see my series on the ADA about this.