Pippa Highfield of Ideas for Ears is searching for practical solutions to the barrier created by face masks
I had one of those rare light-bulb moments the other day. Suddenly, something became so obvious to me that I couldn’t believe I’d missed it before – it was laughable!
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I’ve been trying to find solutions to the new communication challenges that have been thrown up by Covid-19 for those of us with hearing loss. That is, how to make video calls more accessible and how to communicate with someone who is wearing a mask or face covering.
Both pieces have been well received and many people have shared their ideas, and anxieties, in response. One story though made me think again, and wonder if there was anything else I could be doing to help myself and others with hearing loss, or if I should just admit defeat.
Hit by a realisation
The story told of a patient who had just returned from an hospital appointment where she had been completely unable to communicate with the nurse. It wasn’t through a lack of equipment or initiative, but simply because the nurse didn’t have the time, or perhaps the inclination if I’m feeling less generous, to make it work.
It was then that it hit me. However much I do, I can’t solve all my communication difficulties alone. It takes two, or more, to have a conversation and adjustments usually need to be made by both parties. A willingness to acknowledge the other person’s needs is a must, but many other things can get in the way too.
Rammed home by problem acoustics
The point was rammed home to me later that day in a video call with three others. It was yet another video call and yet another less than satisfactory experience. I could hear one person’s voice on the call clearly enough, but the other two, barely at all.
I plucked up courage – let’s acknowledge here that it does take courage to say something – and asked them what set-up they were using and what room at home they were in. It transpired that both were in echoey dining rooms and neither had direct microphone input into their laptops.
Short of asking everyone to call me from a more acoustically-friendly bedroom and to use a headset or external microphone with their laptop, what more could I alone do?
I am only human – I get embarrassed
The final part of the light-bulb moment, was the realisation that I am only human! And, whilst I did pluck up courage to speak up in that last video call, it still didn’t help me. Quite the opposite in fact. As my colleagues tried desperately to find solutions to my problem, I became more and more embarrassed, until I was completely unable to focus on the call.
“… I have an innate fear that my inability to hear properly somehow impacts on other people”
I have been told so many times by well-meaning friends, colleagues and strangers that I just have to tell people I have hearing loss and shouldn’t be embarrassed to do so. As if just telling someone is an easy thing to do.
I did not magically acquire a thick skin and a new pushy personality at the same time as I acquired hearing loss. The truth is, I have never liked to make a fuss and I have always hated being at the centre of attention. These are human traits that make me who I am.
“… the thought that someone else may be negatively affected by my needs is almost intolerable”
I also have an innate fear that my inability to hear properly somehow impacts on other people. Maybe that makes me human too, but the thought that someone else may be negatively affected by my needs, is almost intolerable. That might sound extreme to you, and perhaps it goes to the core of my self-confidence, but I have heard others express the same feeling.
So I don’t make a fuss, what I do instead, is work hard to ‘get by’. I have some residual hearing, I lip read a little, I use contextual information, gestures and, of course, plenty of guess work.
But I was left questioning whether I was opting out in some way by settling for ‘getting by’? If I continue to tell others that everything is fine and ‘getting by’ is OK, then nothing will change. There has to be an appreciation of the problem before anyone will believe that a solution is needed.
The beacon of hope that can say it for me
Consistently clear speech, a steady speaking pace, no background noise and seeing the speakers face, all make it much easier to communicate. The point I’ve already made though is that it can be very hard to ask for these things.
It can not only feel embarrassing and undignified, it can be very hard to do if you don’t have a confident, extrovert personality. So is there another way? Could and should these things be done as standard, for the benefit of everyone, and not just when an occasional, specific effort is made because someone has had the courage to request it?
Fantasy? Perhaps not. There is a phrase out there that says all this for me: it is ‘hearing access’.
Hearing access: a phrase to love and use
Hearing access is the umbrella phrase that covers all the things that make it hard or easy for people with hearing loss to hear and follow the spoken word. At is simplest, hearing access can be compared to mobility access, which we all know includes wheelchair ramps, wide access routes, accessible toilets etc.
We need hearing access to be just as well known, and equally as important, as mobility access. If there is more awareness of hearing access then there will be more effort made to deliver it.
This includes subtle improvements like ensuring that people can see names written down in meetings, as well as the more obvious ones, like ensuring microphones, loudspeakers and hearing loops deliver good quality sound. Helpfully, the guidance for all these things is already available through the Hearing Access Protocol.
My light-bulb moment woke me up to just how important hearing access is, but until it is fully understood and implemented, we are going to have to rely on being bold enough to ask for help. It is an uncomfortable position forced upon us all.
About Pippa Highfield
Pippa is a marketing specialist and cochlear implant recipient. Since acquiring hearing loss in mid-life she now uses her skills to raise awareness and help promote Hearing Access.
Are you bold enough to ask? Have you had a Light Bulb Moment about your hearing? You can use the comment box below if you wish to share your thoughts.