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How to make an event accessible for people with hearing disabilities

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9 min

Back in 2013, Mohammed Jemni, Professor of Information and Communication Technologies, commented on the main problem of technology at the time and the people using it. “The disability is not the problem. The accessibility is the problem.” 

Fast-forward to 2021. The event industry finally discusses accessibility issues in remote and on-site meetings. Accessibility and inclusivity become one of the main priorities for event organizers. But, sadly, people with hearing impairments still face the same challenges they faced years ago. 

Is hearing loss that big of a problem?

Short answer, yes. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers state that hearing loss is the third major physical disability in the United States. World Health Organization also predicts that by 2050, 1 out of 10 people will have a disabling hearing loss. 

Though these statistics couldn’t have been more straightforward, ensuring equal access to events for people with hearing loss is often overlooked. 

That is why we’ve gathered these 5 tips on what to keep in mind when creating a welcoming event experience for people with hearing loss. 

What should I keep in mind to include people with hearing loss?

Ensure appropriate seating and lighting.

People with hearing disabilities have increased visual senses. This means that they are likely to pay more attention to details, especially the speakers’ body language and facial expressions. Here’s how you can help your audience grasp mimics of the speaker better. 

A study by the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield says that to identify most facial expressions correctly, you have to sit no further than 15 meters from the speaker. In other words, you should seat the people with hearing disabilities in the front rows. When it comes to lighting, hosting the event with the dimmed light might not serve your attendees well. Make sure that your participants can clearly see the speaker and that he stays in the spotlight. 

Also, don’t forget to switch the lights on after the PowerPoint presentation - as trivial as it sounds, it still happens very often!

Provide written materials.

If you organize a conference with many different speakers and topics, think about the written material you can hand out to your audience. In some cases, it is possible to ask the presenters to provide their speeches before the event. 

While live presentations are more nuanced than pre-recorded speeches, people with hearing loss will benefit from transcripts with a general overview of the speaker engagement. 

If whole scripts are not available, make sure to provide names, dates, and other essential details that can increase listeners’ comprehension. There are many ways to provide the written material: you can either print it out or upload it to online applications so listeners can access them when needed. Sending out an email before an event might be just as helpful. 

Make sure to caption the media.

Written material is not the only way to express the spoken narrative. For example, if there is music at your event, don’t forget to show song lyrics in the background or as an overhead projection. 

The same goes for video material. Any videos that you will show at your event should have captions or subtitles. Including captions and subtitles can go a long way: people who have different levels of the spoken language will thank you just as much as those who can’t hear the audio due to medical conditions. 

Consider using assistive listening devices.

First of all, there are different types of hearing loss. Some people have complete deafness, and others may still hear the sound if the distance and tone are right. Assistive listening devices (ASLs) might be handy in many of these situations. 

National Association of the Deaf outlines three main types of listening devices: audio loop (inductive) systems, infrared systems, and FM systems. They all consist of a microphone, transmitter, and receiver. Each of them has a different technology on how they operate, but they all work as amplifiers of the sound. Using them will ensure that no matter the distance, everyone will be able to hear the presenter.

Additionally, your users will have the ability to customize the level of the speech. Some of these systems come with noise cancellation, which is extremely important for those who are sensitive to loud noises.

If you decide to use any kind of assistive device, make sure to include an International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss so your participants know about this feature.

Implement sign interpretation services.

One of the communication standards for people with hearing disabilities is American sign language. Although we’re mentioning this tip last, it might be one of the most effective ways to increase accessibility.

Sign interpreters commonly use their hands, fingers, and facial expression to deliver spoken messages. However, they can also use other methods such as the oral method (slow lip movements that will allow lip-readers to understand the message) or the tactile method (for the ones who are both blind and deaf).

The first step to implementing sign interpretation services at an on-site event is placing sign interpreters at an appropriate distance. While this might be easy in smaller events, you should think about additional LED screens with a video feed of the sign interpreter in bigger venues.

Just like with ASLs, a specific symbol for sign interpretation exists. Don’t forget to include Symbol for Sign Language Interpretation on brochures, handouts, and any other advertisement material if you use sign interpretation in your events.

While these tips are just some of the things that you have to keep in mind, they would still significantly increase the inclusivity and experience for your audience.

Can Interactio offer any of these services?

Yes! For over a year, Interactio has been working with sign interpreters to bring events closer to people.

Using simultaneous sign interpretation with Interactio doesn't require you to install extra software, apart from the Interactio remote participation panel. All your participants will receive exactly the same message as the rest of your audience listening to the speech in their preferred language. 

How does it work? 

With Interactio multilingual meetings solution, you can seamlessly stream the video of the interpreter who will listen to your message as you speak. The professional will simultaneously interpret your ideas in sign language while the system will transmit the video to your participants with hearing problems in real-time. Worried about the delay time? Even with the unstable network, the delay will not exceed 1-2 seconds allowing everyone to follow and enjoy your event!

Even though there are many challenges that we are yet to overcome, we believe that the future is equal for everyone.

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Published on

September 13, 2021

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