It's frustrating to walk into a movie theater with my kids, only to sit stone-faced in front of a film I can't hear. When I attend concerts with my husband and the music is quiet, I struggle to follow along. At plays, I have no idea what most of the stage performers are saying. Does that make me stupid? Absolutely not! I'm just among the millions of people in the world with hearing loss who rely on technology to understand the sounds around me.
I became a member of the Collaboration for Communication Access via Captioning (CCAC) to advocate for such things as captioning. Locally, I've driven to performing arts centers and movie theaters to ask for accessible entertainment through captions or a system known as looping (see definition below). I've spoken to the pastors at my church about having volunteers type captions during worship services. Without these accommodations, I am left scratching my head when I should be learning something.
If you could write a letter you knew would be read and followed through by a business person in power who is sensitive to your hearing loss, what would you write? Consider my letter and feel free to use and adapt it to your situation.
LETTER TO THE PERSON IN POWER
I am a hard of hearing person. While I once frequented the halls of your movie theater/place of worship/performing arts venue/sports arena, my progressive hearing loss has made it increasingly difficult to participate without accommodations. For the record, I wear hearing aids, lipread reasonably well, and have family members who double as my personal listening assistants. (I ask, "What did he or she say?" They repeat highlights of what he or she said.) From outside appearances, I blend in with the crowds who attend your events. It would seem I enjoy myself just fine, except when I can't hear well, which is every time I attend your events.
What does it mean to be hard of hearing? First, my eyes are my ears. I rely on watching people's lips move to understand what my ears can't comprehend of their speech. I am not culturally deaf and know very little sign language. Thus, sign interpreters are ineffective for me. My hearing aids increase the volume of what I hear, but they don't always help me to understand what I am hearing. In a crowded room with a lot of background noise, hearing aids have difficulty focusing on the sounds I want to hear. Without some additional accommodations, I often sit at your events, idly taking in all the sights and sounds--without making much sense of it.
What can your facility do to accommodate the thousands of people like me? Please consider one or, preferably, both of these things:
Real-time text of your performance, printed on a screen within comfortable distance of me and/or the main stage. There are various methods for this: captions printed directly on a screen above or below the stage; LED captions printed from the back of the facility and reflected onto a shiny device you provide me with; broadcast captions via the Internet that are accessible through my phone or facility laptop; special glasses you provide me that reflect captions onto my lenses.
An induction system you provide that magnetically transmits sounds to my hearing aids. This system, is in essence an in-the-ear loudspeaker. It can provide listeners with hearing aids or cochlear implants the ability to receive a crystal-clear transmission of sound from your stage's microphones directly into their aids or implants.
From a marketing standpoint, your facility could benefit from the inclusion of one or both of these accommodations. Besides helping hard of hearing people and their families, imagine the interest your act could capture in the special needs-sensitive media and with certain special interests groups; not to mention the publicity it could gain with groups devoted to cutting edge technology. No matter what the cost is of providing captions or looping, isn't the added business from good publicity worth it?
Business talks aside, imagine how good you would feel being able to provide your loved one, who may have a hearing loss, the chance to fully engage in your event. You would no longer have to repeat what someone said from the stage or what was announced over the loudspeaker. You both can sit back and relax, able to enjoy the show without your beloved's unwelcome intermissions.
Pretend that you are me. I am a person nowhere near middle age, having to rely on my 11-, 7- and even 4-year-old children to repeat important information I can't hear well at your facility. What child should have to be a listening interpreter for her mom?
Take the burden off mine and my children's shoulders, and provide me with the hearing accommodations I need. In the end, wouldn't you do the same for your own mom?
A Lipreading Mom
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Shanna Groves was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss after the birth of her first child. She was 27. Raised in a hearing family, Shanna traces her hearing loss to a genetic loss on the paternal side of her family. She is mom to three young children, a published author, and speaker. Her books are featured at www.ShannaGroves.com. Shanna blogs about being a hard of hearing mom at http://LipreadingMom.com.