Removing Unconscious Barriers in the Presence of Hearing Loss

Randi Friedman

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Over one in 10 people have hearing loss and do not speak American Sign Language (ASL).

In my 18 years of experience as an open captioning and communication access real-time translation (CART) provider and open captioner to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, I have both observed and experienced barriers to access for this group. The barriers are usually based on lack of information.

The first step toward 100% inclusion of the population I serve begins with an understanding of the different groups of people with hearing loss and their different needs.

This article is part of a series that offers help toward a greater understanding of the issues and what is needed and available.

What Is the Difference Between an Oral Deaf Person & a Signing Deaf Person?

A person who is oral deaf (born deaf or early deafened), grew up in a hearing household and uses hearing aids or cochlear implants to bring sound to the auditory center of their brain. Even if their "ears don't work," the hearing center in their brain does.

If early deafened, they were taught speech by a speech therapist and communicate most of the time the way hearing people do. So, they may seem—to hearing people—like any other hearing person.

A late-deafened or hard of hearing adult may have a gradual loss of hearing. This type of deaf person already speaks and hears language and can learn to adjust to this disability once they accept it.

In both cases, being "deaf yet hearing" in a hearing world can present challenges. Most people who are oral deaf or hard of hearing communicate easily in quiet rooms in a conversation with one or two people. They "pass" as hearing in many cases, and this can cause misunderstanding and tension.

This tension can create barriers to their access to communication in settings like large conferences, medium-sized seminars, and groups of three or more people.

For all of these groups of people with hearing loss, when more distance, people, and noise are added, their deafness or hearing loss becomes apparent. Since we can't "see" what a person is hearing, we don't know what communication is lost.

Communication can become awkward because people do not know what to do. Confusion may lead to embarrassment and, ultimately, isolation for the person with hearing loss unless they are a strong self-advocate.

New strategies for communication and a greater understanding by society at large are needed so we as a culture can remove the unconscious barriers to communication.

A signing deaf person, on the other hand, is culturally deaf. They are sometimes referred to as "Big D Deaf" and primarily use ASL to communicate.

What Is the Difference Between Open Captioning & Closed Captioning?

Closed captioning, which most people have seen on TV, needs to be opened by the user with a remote control and can be turned on or off at any time with a remote control.

Open captioning is a universal design which means it is available to everyone present. Everyone benefits from universal design including people for whom English is not their native language, children learning to read, and hearing people who are momentarily distracted. Providing captioning meets the requirement of accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In public events or conferences, people who are oral (speaking) deaf or hard of hearing deaf need access via captioning—not sign language interpreters. Are your conferences accessible to this large group of attendees?

Randi C. Friedman has been providing CART for 18 years. She has captioned United States presidents, Bon Jovi, and ordinary people. She is a computer conference and STEM captioning specialist and also enjoys providing personal captioning for 100th birthday parties and weddings for people with hearing loss.

Randi and her company, The Open Captioners, educate business and government leaders, clergy, educators, and the general population on Removing Unconscious Barriers (RUB©) via workshops and seminars. Randi gives speaker training and Microphone Awareness Tips© to presenters in all venues.

As Randi sees it, "An evolved society seeks to include all its members. Inclusion benefits everyone."

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