Getting it right for hearing
Getting it right for hearing

I feel wrong for saying this but I’m quite glad about accusations made today (15 September) against MP Alec Shelbrooke. Unkind and untrue though they were, it also served the purpose of raising the very important subject of ‘hearing’.

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Mr Shelbrooke had slouched down in his House of Commons seat to better hear the shoulder-height speaker system next to him. He had also closed his eyes to aid concentration. Unaware that these were the actions of someone with slight hearing loss working hard to listen, a BBC journalist accused the MP of “resting his eyes”.

A photo of a supposedly snoozing Mr Shelbrooke was pinged around Twitter and Facebook until the BBC was alerted to the truth and issued an apology. But no matter, the deed was done – Mr Shelbrooke’s hearing and his efforts to listen were out there and under discussion.

It’s a helpful discussion. Hearing is a complex matter that involves the brain as much as the ear. Everyone has difficulty hearing at some point or other, with some situations presenting more difficulties to more people than others. It can come down to acoustics or the speaker or the quality of communication equipment like microphones. This is being borne out by our research into the problems facing staff in office workplaces.

Not surprisingly, for people who also have loss of hearing, the difficulties are compounded. If sounds and tones are out of your range of hearing then you capture only partial words and sentences. The rest you must fill in with nimble thinking based on possible words, context, subject matter, reactions of other listeners, and the body language or facial movements of the speaker.

Getting it right can be a feat of endurance, not to mention good fortune.

Yet for the most part you would never know. The human desire for dignity means no matter the struggle, most people with hearing loss handle the chore of listening with the grace of a swan – all the effort hidden from sight so it seems no effort at all. Businesses and organisations might wish to reflect on how this might play out amongst their customers and staff.

The revealing picture of Alec Shelbrooke helps to expose a hidden truth. My thanks to Mr Shelbrooke.

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