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POSTED 11.3.2021

Closed captions: not just an accessibility feature, but a saving grace for zoom fatigue!

Erin Fox looks at some of the latest news in hearing health and how new milestones can help improve listening fatigue.

By Erin Fox

The beginning of March was a noisy week in hearing health as the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched its first-ever ‘World Report on Hearing’ on World Hearing Day and Zoom has pledged to provide closed captioning for all free users.

The WHO’s report, which was launched on World Hearing Day, March 3, has called on governments and communities to prioritise hearing health, while outlining the rise in hearing loss around the world and highlighting the benefits of hearing implants.

One of the main impacts of hearing loss on someone’s life is fatigue from straining to listen all the time. As the first anniversary of the first lockdown in Ireland has passed, it’s been a long year of communication barriers, from masks and shaky internet connections to poor speaker sound. If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has given everyone with full hearing a taste of what it’s like to have hearing loss.

In a pre-pandemic social situation, where a group of people are having a conversation, the person with hearing loss will usually be working 10 times harder to pick up everything that’s being said. They may strain to hear or they may be entirely focused on lipreading. It’s no wonder it leads to fatigue!

And on video calls, no matter how perfect your hearing is, we are all doing exactly the same. Online conversation removes the ease to relax when chatting. We are constantly working harder to be more alert, more “on”, and subconsciously, we are all lip-reading. We are trying to hear and it’s exhausting.

“Zoom” fatigue isn’t new, we’re just all experiencing it now.

But, closed captions can make a huge difference by easing the pressure to listen and helping to relieve Zoom fatigue. And it’s thanks to hearing health advocate, Shari Eberts, that Zoom is joining Microsoft and Google in making captions available to free users this autumn.

As we await for the rollout of Zoom captions, another useful tool for combating listening fatigue is the 20-20-20 eye rule. This is something I learned when I was attending lipreading classes at the age of 17. Many lip-readers practise this to reduce eye strain and sensory overload and it’s just the tonic for zoom fatigue!

It’s very straightforward, all you need to do is:

  1. Set a timer for every 20 minutes
  2. Pick an object 20 feet away
  3. And focus on this for 20 seconds.

Closed captions are essential for many people with hearing loss and without them, it’s incredibly easy to lose track of what’s being said. I know myself when I don’t have closed captions for a film or a talk, I “run out of steam” and when I mishear one piece of information that leads to missing out on more because I’m working hard to figure out what was said. So, as more and more people rely on captions in the pandemic world, it’s fantastic to see them becoming more accessible.