This is a guest-post by Teresa Blankmeyer Burke.
Scaliger’s helpful post about making APA presentations visually accessible and appealing reminds me there are also things philosophers can do to make their presentations more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audience members. Odds are good that at least a few audience members will have hearing loss -- according to the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, fifteen percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss, and this percentage increases with age. Most of these people rely on residual hearing (amplified or unamplified) and visual cues. This post is focused on making talks more accessible to that population – I’m planning another post on accessibility for those working with sign language interpreters and CART (captioning).
Here are six simple things presenters can do to make their presentations more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audience members who use residual hearing and speechreading:
1. If a microphone is available, use it!
All too often, presenters ask the audience if a microphone is necessary (“Everyone can hear me, right?”) and proceed without using the mike.
This presents a few problems. First, some people with hearing loss are embarrassed to admit they cannot hear well and don’t want to volunteer this information to an audience. Second, others don’t hear the question about the use of the microphone and cannot answer it! Third, some people may be hesitant to make accessibility requests for other reasons (e.g. they are on the market, there is a power/professional status difference, or they do not want to disclose hearing status for personal reasons).
2. If you are using slides, pause for a few seconds to let the audience view the slide before you read it and start talking about it. Brief image description is also helpful.
A number of people with mild to moderate hearing loss speechread, even those who have never received formal instruction in this skill. Pausing gives the audience member with hearing loss a chance to read and become familiar with content that’s difficult to speechread without context – names and technical terms are especially challenging. Not all members of your audience will be specialists in your field; working memory expended on trying to figure out names and other terms means less available working memory for understanding your argument.
If you are using slides, it is helpful to announce this to your audience and tell them what you will do at the beginning of your talk, i.e. “I am using slides, and my talk contains all of the slide text; I’ll briefly describe slide images. I will also read quotes before discussing them.”
For obvious reasons, blind and low vision audience members appreciate brief visual descriptions, but it is often overlooked that this also helps deaf and hard of hearing people since their eyes are often locked on to the speaker in order to catch every word.
A similar point holds for sound description – if your talk relies on understanding of a particular sound or wordplay, deaf and hard of hearing audience members will appreciate a brief description of it.
3. If you refer to a handout, state the location of the passage or quote on the handout.
Tell the audience that you are going to read the third quote on the second page of the handout. Best practice for accessibility is to read quotes and not just refer to them. Here’s why: audience members with visual disabilities may not have access to this information unless it is read; audience members with hearing loss relying on speechreading will not be able to simultaneously read the handout and look at the speaker if the speaker is talking about the handout (but not reading it).
4. During the question period, the presenter (or session chair) should briefly restate the question and identify who has asked the question.
Again, this helps blind and low vision audience members as well as those with hearing loss.
Some audience members are new to the field and cannot identify others by voice or appearance. Some questioners may be seated too far away for hard of hearing audience members to hear or speechread them – people with hearing loss often choose to sit where they can best see and hear the presenter.
5. Try to position yourself in good lighting when possible.
Conference site lighting is notoriously bad. Sometimes moving slightly forward or to the side can make a significant difference in whether your audience can see you – shadows on a person’s face make speechreading more difficult. Ask the session chair to check for this before the session begins.
6. If you are reading your paper, be sure to read it at a conversational pace. Also, look at your audience.
Speechreading a presenter reading words at a breakneck pace is exhausting! A presenter who delivers a paper that is well paced and who looks out at the audience is much easier to speechread and comprehend. All too often presenters begin their talks at an unrushed pace, then upon realizing they have just ten minutes left, race through the rest of the talk with the speed of a cattle auctioneer. Rehearsing one’s talk several times and adjusting for time constraints goes a long way toward making the entire talk accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audience members.
1. Use the microphone
2. Pause after each slide
3. Identify handout passages
4. Restate questions
5. Check lighting
6. Watch your pace