Preparing for Fun and… WHAT?

How to Plan An Event for Groups with Hearing Loss

Too many mics! In this scene from “Jay Alan Zimmerman’s Incredibly Deaf Musical” a hard-of-hearing guitarist (played by Greg Laucella) interrupts Jay’s speech to hand him yet another device. Photo by Barbara Norman.
Life is rough in the middle. When a group of hearing friends get together, they easily chat, banter, and toss ideas back and forth like playing ball on a warm summer’s day. When a group of deaf people gather, they chat, banter and toss ideas through sign language without dropping the ball either. But when a group of people with hearing loss get together—people who were formerly hearing or born with moderate losses—the ball clunks to the ground repeatedly. Loudly. Painfully. Excruciatingly.

A simple “hello” can trigger an explosion of anxious whats and huhs followed by a parade of tech.

I know, because I’m one of the ball-droppers. A simple “hello” can trigger an explosion of anxious whats and huhs followed by a parade of tech. Out come the assemblages of personal tech: the mics, the headphones, the hearing aid and cochlear implant accessories. Out come the demands to talk louder, slower, clearer, in precise noun-verb-subject order without confusing embellishment or metaphorical poetry.

For example, during preparations for the recent Coming Out About Hearing Loss event with Katherine Bouton, I had several meetings where I’d start with lipreading and get stuck, so I’d whip out my personal amplification system (an iPhone app and earbuds) and get stuck, and then finally pull out my iPad and a wireless keyboard and ask them to type… clearly. Yikes. Talk about things “coming out!”

Now multiply that by 50 or 100 people. For the event with Katherine Bouton, I spent hours planning the tech requirements so that everyone would be able to hear. We set up a projection screen for live captioning and a wireless system to deliver captions to personal devices, plus a second projection screen for lecture notes and images. We installed a t-coil loop system on the floor for hearing aids and cochlear implants and used a freestanding sound system to amplify the speakers. Finally, we spent an hour before the event tweaking the lighting so that all the screens were visible.

We thought we were ready to play ball with our hard-of-hearing audience.

Only over time can they learn to let go of following every word. I’m still trying to learn myself.

But during the presentations, there were constant complaints interrupting the program to demand more light on the speaker. One frustrated lady kept thrusting her hand in the air, crying “louder!” A growling gentleman left the event, complaining that the font for the presentations was too small. At first I felt that I had dropped the ball, had failed to think of every contingency and need.

Then I said to myself: Look, or rather, Listen. People getting used to hearing loss are often already upset. They already feel left out, exhausted, perhaps they are suffering from tinnitus or dizziness. They’ve missed so much and don’t want to miss more. Yet only over time can they learn to let go of following every word. I’m still trying to learn myself. I’ve been in both places: as the one needing help and the one trying to help, and both roles can be exhausting.

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Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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