To mark Deaf Awareness Week, Erin Fox looks at some deaf awareness tips and how these can help all of us improve our communication during social distancing.
This week is Deaf Awareness Week in the UK and the theme for 2020 is ‘acquired hearing loss’. As someone with acquired hearing loss, losing my hearing completely changed the way I communicate and, if anything, it helped improve my communication skills.
Living through this Covid-19 pandemic and the isolation we are all experiencing has reminded me of that feeling of disconnection when my own hearing deteriorated. We’re all cut off, and we can’t communicate with one another in our usual ways.
With modern technology, we can still keep in touch via phone calls, email, Zoom, Skype, Facetime. But the lack of a physical presence means we’re all working harder to focus and take in what’s being said. And that can lead to fatigue and fuel that feeling of being disconnected.
So, in the spirit of raising awareness around hearing loss and communication, here are a few handy tips that can make communication throughout the pandemic a little easier for all of us.
Face the person while you are speaking
It’s incredibly hard to focus on what someone is saying when their back is turned or they are walking around the room. I’ve yet to see anyone do the latter in a video call, but do make sure your face is visible to the person you’re speaking to. Don’t sit directly behind a window or bright light and try not to move around too much in your seat when you’re in front of the camera. Shaky WiFi connections can affect audio and picture. We all lipread a little, whether or not you’re aware of it, so seeing someone’s face clearly can make the call easier when the audio isn’t great. Having said that…..
And have a little patience. Don’t talk over each other in group calls and try not to be in too much of a hurry to say your piece. Muting everyone’s mics while one person is talking muffles background noises and audio feedback. Eliminating those little distractions can make the call flow much more smoothly. There is always bound to be at least one person in any video call who’s got a poor connection, so repeat what you’ve said if they haven’t caught it. And if you’re the person who didn’t hear, don’t get flustered! It will be repeated and you will be included on the important information.
Improvise with text
Before a video call meeting, it can help to email, in advance, the main points of the meeting. That way, if you’re not picking up everything in the call, you can fill in any gaps with a bit of context. Sometimes, no matter how often you repeat something, someone just might not get it, whether it’s due to hearing loss or an issue with sound on their speakers. The chat feature in video calls is incredibly useful for typing a quick message to one person or the group. It may seem like hassle, but, hey, we’re all adapting to new ways of communicating so make the most of it!
It’s only natural to feel a little, or completely, anxious while we live through this pandemic. And that kind of anxiety can lead to hurried messages, speaking too fast on the phone, trying to get everything done at once. And with that, you’re at risk of missing out on delivering key messages. So before you send an email, or pick up the phone, think about what you need to do, what you need to say, and go through it slowly. You will save more time in the long run by communicating your message slowly and clearly once rather than repeating it.
Finally, while video calls are mostly a fantastic tool for keeping communication flowing during social distancing, many people with hearing loss are still struggling during calls. Captions are something of a life-saver when it comes to video, and unfortunately many options for captions are behind a paywall.
Hearing health advocate, Shari Eberts, has started a petition on change.org to call for free auto captioning for the hearing loss community. It only takes a minute to sign, so if you would like to show some support, you can sign the petition here.