Thanks to Alan Blue for this guest blog. Alan is a member of the Forth Valley University of the 3rd Age (U3A) and shares the story of how he and others from the U3A became involved in supporting Ideas for Ears to formulate new protocols & guidelines that could transform meetings and events across the UK.
Back in February 2016, Sally Shaw, director of Ideas for Ears, gave a short talk at a general meeting of the Forth Valley U3A. It was a plea for help in exploring hearing and deafness issues. Having had hearing problems for many years, I responded to her plea and offered my help on behalf of the Forth Valley U3A.
Sally was designing a system to obtain feedback from people on how well and easily they were able to hear and follow conversation and discussion in different situations. She was interested in people’s experiences in any public place, including meetings such as a General Meeting of the U3A.
To help her, at the next Forth Valley general meeting, I circulated information to invite people to get in touch. It resulted in two motivated FV U3A members agreeing to join me for a coffee with Sally so that we discuss our experiences. It must have been a good cup of coffee because we have been meeting up regularly ever since.
We formed an ad hoc ‘hearing hub’
Our meetings turned into an ad hoc Forth Valley U3A ‘hearing hub’. Sally’s overall focus was to find ways to make it easier and more enjoyable for people to remain involved in social, cultural, learning and work activities. Through our regular meetings, we guided Sally to the view that meetings and events should become a main focus for attention
Our hearing hub of three became a group of five and was replicated by another hearing hub involving four more U3A members and some others too.
We saw that standards everywhere should be raised
Sally shared with us findings from survey research that identified that people everywhere are struggling to hear and follow things and that often this is not because of their hearing ability but because the venue is noisy or has poor acoustics, or because speakers are not audible enough, or there is poor/no use of microphones and other assistive equipment.
It seemed clear that general standards should be raised and improved across the whole country. This led us to help Sally develop guidance for how things could be done better.
The result is a new protocol and guidelines for meetings and events, which sets out best practice for organisers and for those who attend, speak or present at them. These are now being consulted on, with feedback being gathered from people across the UK until 15 April.
A message to U3A branches and members
The U3A is a prime target for the protocol and guidelines because even though people might feel they have perfect hearing, it is a fact that hearing loss comes with age! Statistically, around two thirds of people aged 65 plus will have hearing loss, even if for many it is fairly mild.
Many of the barriers that people can come up against in meeting and events can be removed in fairly straightforward ways. The improvements that result are often of benefit to everyone.
The U3A has a chance to make improvements that will set an example to others. It also has the opportunity to show itself to be a forward-thinking organisation that supports the right of everyone to participate and be included.
Actions to take
Bringing about change is not easy but the ageing population and the huge numbers who have some degree of hearing loss makes this an important challenge. New policies, perhaps stronger legislation too, may be needed to move things forward, but it is anticipated that many organisations will take action based on the clear benefits that can be achieved.
The U3A (like other organisations that put the needs and interests of people first) doesn’t need to wait to be ‘forced’. We just need to recognise that it is in our best interests to help ensure all of our members can access learning and discussion opportunities.
We’re asking U3A members across the UK to support this progress. To help, you can:
- Recommend your U3A branch adopts and implements the new protocol and guidelines when it is published in May 2018.
- Promote the protocol and guidelines to other organisations and people of influence
- Create a U3A hearing hub to encourage discussion and shared learning around practical challenges created by hearing loss and solutions.
If you would like to know more, please make contact with Sally and she’ll pass your details to me. The combined energy, wisdom and interest of U3A members can help to bring about much-needed change. I look forward to hearing from you.