Getting it right for hearing
Getting it right for hearing

New survey research by Ideas for Ears suggests that hostile hearing conditions are making meetings and events inaccessible to large numbers of people across the UK who have hearing loss.

The research also suggests that the difficulties that people are experiencing are typically ordinary in their nature and can, in many instances, be fixed at little or no cost.

The findings have implications for businesses and organisations of all sizes that run meetings and events for staff, customers and other stakeholders.

The research, carried out in November 2017, reveals that people are feeling frustrated, excluded, stressed and embarrassed by the difficulties they experience.  They are missing important information, are not able to contribute as effectively as they could do, and consequently are being put off attending future meetings and events.

The survey was completed by 362 people who have varying degrees of hearing loss and are aged from 18 to 80 plus.

Key findings include:

  • 93% of respondents said they sometimes, often or always experience difficulties in being able to hear and follow what is being said
  • 81% said they were not able to contribute as effectively as they could have done
  • 79% said they had missed important or interesting information
  • 62% said they could not chat or network as they wanted
  • 71% said they have come away feeling tired and 30% said they have been left with headaches
  • 61% said it made them feel excluded or ignored, 56% said it made them feel stressed, and 51% said it made them feel embarrassed
  • 50% said they have been put off attending similar meetings/events in the future
  • 34% said they felt they had wasted their time in attending and 33% said it had made the meeting uninteresting or boring.

Reasons given for the difficulties include:

  • Level of noise generated from chatter from other people (given by 78% of respondents)
  • Simultaneous discussions being held in the same room (76%)
  • Own hearing ability (72%)
  • People not speaking loudly or clearly enough (72%)
  • Acoustics of the room (72%)
  • Noise from equipment in the room (60%), from external sources (52%), from background music (42%)
  • Poor or no use of microphones (56%)
  • Lack of a hearing loop (54%)
  • Being too far from the speaker (54%)
  • Lack of written notes (39%)
  • Lack of quiet zones (36%)
  • Lighting not being suitable for lipreading (27%)
  • No BSL interpreter (8%)

Janis McDonald, Chief Officer of the Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) said: “The findings highlight just how widespread poor experiences are.  It also illustrates how crucial it is for organisations to get the basics right, which includes people speaking clearly and making sure that their faces can be seen and meeting environments having suitable lighting, acoustics and listening equipment. The solutions are generally very cost effective.”

Sally Shaw, director of Ideas for Ears, comments: “People with hearing loss represent one sixth of the population so they are a large minority group. Most of these individuals actually have the capability of hearing adequately, or even very well, so long as the barriers that cause difficulties are removed or reduced.  There is absolutely no need for so many to have such poor experiences on such a regular basis.

“The findings from the survey research illustrate that people very much want to attend and join in meetings and events but are struggling with the hostile hearing conditions. This is giving rise to a whole range of feelings, from hopelessness, helplessness and embarrassment to frustration and anger.

“For the majority of survey respondents, noise and poor acoustics are the main culprits. The noise generated by the babble of conversation is especially difficult.  We clearly do not want to stop people talking, but we do need to start seeing much better management of noise and acoustics by venues and facility managers and building designers.

“Other difficulties include people not speaking clearly, microphones not being used when they should be, and words and information that are easy to mishear or misunderstand not being written down. Many of the difficulties are therefore quite mainstream and resolving them is likely to bring about improvements for everyone.

“For some people, of course, the barriers are caused by lack of text transcription or lack of sign language provision. Their needs should never be neglected but, equally, it should be recognised that for the majority, the challenges are more ordinary. It is perhaps because they are so ordinary that they get overlooked.”

The data gathered was supplemented by more than 500 comments from respondents. Respondent comments include: 

  • “In social situations it depends how comfortable I am with the people. If I don’t know them well I don’t like to make a fuss and find it embarrassing.  If it’s people I know well I often feel like I’m wasting my time as nothing ever changes.  It’s not other people’s fault that I can’t hear, although they don’t do enough at times to include me, I just don’t think they understand.”
  • “I may not hear very well, but I can see when people are exasperated with me. I want to contribute, but I feel stupid and excluded.”
  • “Whilst I am assertive enough to check I have got information correctly, I can’t know what I don’t know, so I have definitely missed things, or embarrassingly misheard something and got things wrong. With a lot of people and noise it can be exhausting and very frustrating to try and follow what is going on.”
  • “Training and conference days are extremely tiring”
  • “It is a struggle to participate and only about half of the meeting is understandable but one has to keep trying or hibernate!”
  • “People forget! A meeting group can totally agree that they should do x, y and z to help you, then forget at the next meeting. Takes repetition!”
  • “There is no point in having meetings if the participants cannot participate and contribute fully. In people only hear part of what is said, then the meeting is not fully representative of the views of people there and organisers cannot be sure that the purpose of the meeting has been achieved.”
  • “My experience leads me to believe I am probably the only deaf person in the south who asks for the loop system etc to be switched on, and most seem to have given up attending meetings and presentations and company AGMs.”
  • “This needs to be so much to the forefront that everyone automatically thinks of it and its importance – whether with normal/good hearing or without!”

Read the full report and see the data tables

Ideas for Ears has now developed protocol and guidelines to help bring about change and improvement in meetings/events.

See protocol & guidelines – open for consultation until 15 April 2018

8 responses to “Meetings missing the mark due to hostile hearing conditions”

  1. I cannot find any references to any data which mentioned deaf people who use sign language in this survey – any info would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hello Ezio,

      Thank you for your question. There is limited reference to sign language in the results because few of the respondents were deaf people who use sign language. You will see a bit of information in Fig 6 on page 4 of the Full Report document. Our work focuses on those who have hearing loss who do not use sign language, which may explain the limited input from sign language users. We fully recognise the importance of sign language provision but our role is to represent the experiences of those who do not use it. I hope this answers your question sufficiently.

      Best regards, Sally

  2. This is an excellent and very helpful piece of research which echoes my experience. I have stopped going to lectures on the whole because even universities do not always have facilities for people with hearing loss. Often, I try to find out in advance what the facilities will be and do no always get a response. The British Library is an honorable exception and has excellent facilities. One of the frustrating things is that so often the loop systems advertised do not work – two visits to different restaurants at Kew did not work, staff didn’t know what they were for. I am cynical enough to think that sometimes the organisations put up the loop sign because they want to be thought the ‘good guys’ . On a more positive note, my husband who does not have hearing loss, and I decided to by a PA system as we go to quite a lot of small meetings where we would not expect facilities – solution that ‘s not available to everyone. There is so much that can be done to enable those of us with hearing loss to be part of an inclusive society . I try to make the points, but you have to feel strong to do so – and sometimes, I just can’t do it again. So glad you did the research – the most important thing is to make people aware of what they can do to assist us with hearing loss, and most will help if reminded!

    • Hello Ann, your positive words about this research work are appreciated so thank you.

      Poor experiences are sadly widespread. It is no wonder cynicism creeps as gestures do sometimes appear tokenistic. We take the view that most people and organisations don’t mean to exclude, they just don’t know how best to include.

      You may have spotted that we have now created Protocols for meetings and events. We want these to reduce the need for each one of us to advocate/remind on an individual basis – as you say, it can be tiring and difficult. The Protocols have emerged from people with hearing loss, and this is their strength. Far better for those of us with hearing loss to work out between ourselves what it is we need, want and require rather than leave others to guess or make assumptions.

      We will press on with our efforts, energised by stories such as yours. Improvement is needed – and is also perfectly possible.

      Best wishes, Sally Shaw

  3. Hello

    My experiences are very similar. I have attended many meetings both locally and as part of a larger area group, with the specific purpose of discussing the needs of those of us with hearing loss, only to find there is no loop system available. this means that those of us who could give the most evidence, can’t hear what is going on!! It is sad to say that in many service providers the people who have influence do not really understand the needs of those with hearing loss or what it is like to try to follow a meeting when you have a hearing loss. Much more needs to be done to raise awareness and to make better provision in this area. I am attending a meeting on Friday and have been assured that there will be a loop system available. If this is true I am looking forward to a stimulating morning! I will continue to draw attention to this need in any way that I can.

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