Getting it right for hearing
Getting it right for hearing

Scottish Parliament debating chamber

We are delighted that hearing access is to be debated in the Scottish Parliament as part of a motion recognising World Hearing Day and Hearing Awareness Week.

The debate will take place on Thursday 28 February at 12:45pm, straight after First Minister’s Questions.  It was lodged by Alexander Stewart, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, and will be filmed and shown on BBC online and the Parliament’s TV channel.

Motion to be debated:

That the Parliament acknowledges World Hearing Day on 4 March 2019 and Hearing Awareness Week, which runs from 2 to 9 March 2019; notes the view that hearing access needs to be a priority if there is to be greater public involvement and participation in many varied events; accepts that noise and poor acoustics can often be a significant cause of discomfort, distress and exclusion when it comes to group activities for older age groups and people with conditions such as hearing loss, dementia and autism; considers that there are opportunities for employability schemes to emerge from initiatives that manufacture affordable noise-absorption panels, which could be installed into community venues to help tackle noise and acoustic issues, in addition to others that design and manufacture hearing enhancement devices, and commends all groups, companies and charities that work to benefit the lives of people who live with hearing loss and the stigma that can be associated with the condition.

Our view: 

By encouraging greater hearing access, there is a real opportunity to bring about improved access and inclusion for people who are deaf.

In Scotland, hearing access fits within a wider framework referred to as ‘Communication for All’.  It also knits into the legal requirement for accessible information and inclusive communication.  Although it promotes the word ‘hearing’, it fully recognises the needs of those who are D/deaf by promoting the requirement for support including BSL/English language interpreters, speech to text transcription and lip-speakers.

At Ideas for Ears, we are working to create awareness of the good practices that make hearing and following conversation and audible information more possible for more people. This connects with the natural human desire of those with acquired hearing loss, who are not sign language users, to be able to chat, discuss and follow the spoken word.

In August 2018, the Hearing Access Protocol was published and launched.  It sets out guidance for how to achieve hearing access in meetings, conferences and events. It is a community-led and developed resource, and one that is continuing to evolve and develop with feedback.

What we find exciting when we talk about hearing access is how much it resonates with people. It draws in those who may have a ‘bit of hearing loss’ but who do not identify or align with being deaf.   If we can successful draw in more people, including more of those with age-related hearing loss, then we have more people to help push for improvement.

What has also become clear is that level of hearing loss is very often not the determinant for how well someone will hear and follow what’s said as they go about their daily business.  Success can fluctuate dramatically from one hour to the next, varying from hearing and following perfectly to finding it utterly impossible.  It is not because hearing ability alters but because of the context e.g. the location, environment, equipment, how people speak and so on.

This can be true for people with good hearing too.  Even people with very good hearing have difficulties when faced with poor acoustics, a presenter who is hard to understand, background noise, and sub-standard sound systems or audio-visual equipment.

What’s also true is that hearing access does not happen automatically.  It requires understanding, management and a shared sense of responsibility for making it happen.

Acoustics & noise

It’s good to see acoustics and noise highlighted in the Motion for Debate.  Time and again this comes up as a key issue for people with hearing loss during our community outreach work and survey research.

People are finding venues uncomfortably noisy, sometimes distressingly so.  It makes it a struggle to hear conversation and it puts them off attending group activities.  As an example, we have seen lunch clubs where 30% of the attendees cannot hear what the people next to them are saying because the noise volumes caused from everyone chatting are just too loud.

We would welcome a national initiative that focuses on acoustics and noise so that awareness, and perhaps a pot of funding, brings about change and improvement.  It is not just the design and specification of new buildings that needs to be considered, the remediation of currently used buildings is also crucial.

A universal need for hearing access

There is a universal need for hearing access and this makes it an excellent vehicle for building awareness and moving people towards recognition of the necessity of communication for all.  It is therefore great to see Scotland’s MSP taking an interest and debating the topic as part of their recognition of World Hearing Day and National Hearing Awareness Week.

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