deaf/HoH experiences

Creating community with The Mind Hears open houses

— Michele and Ana

Deaf and hard of hearing faculty often lack role models or colleagues to talk with about the challenges of navigating a career with hearing loss. This isolation can be pronounced when we work at institutions that serve hearing students. This isolation often results in us developing or failing to develop solutions on our own and, in many cases, reinventing wheels that others have already developed. Broadening the mutual mentoring network of deaf and hard of hearing faculty will reduce our isolation and facilitate sharing of strategies for success. The Mind Hears has been creating community and providing a peer-mentoring platform through our blog posts since 2018. We recently hosted two on-line open house sessions in September 2022 and April 2023 to provide an opportunity for folks to meet and communicate with other deaf or hard of hearing faculty in real time. In this post, we will share what worked well in these sessions and some of the participant feedback. 

screen shot of zoom with nine female presenting people of various ages.
Some participants form the April open house

Who attended our open house sessions?

We advertised our open house sessions as virtual coffee hour drop-ins on Twitter, The Mind Hears platform itself, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We also emailed invitations directly to some prior blog contributors. We planned the events for 1.5 hours, at a time that we hoped would work for multiple countries. We chose Zoom as the platform and set up the meeting to require pre-registration. Funding for the drop-in sessions was provided through a minigrant from AccessADVANCE, an NSF funded project at the University of Washington to increase the participation and advancement of women with disabilities in academic STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. We had ~15 attendees in September and ~10 attendees in April, including The Mind Hears co-founders, Ana and Michele, and The Mind Hears social media director, Stephanie. The remaining attendees ranged from postdoctoral researchers to administrators to faculty from a variety of institutions in the US and UK

Full communication Access

Our highest priority was ensuring that every person was able to participate fully in the conversations. For the first open house, we provided two ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters and used live auto-captions built into Zoom. The auto-captions did not work well for all accents, and for the April open house we added CART (Caption Access Real Time) transcription along with ASL interpreters and zoom auto-captions. We also made abundant use of the zoom chat features for comments and side conversations. Participants in the more recent session reported a variety of preferences for communication – some preferred the auto-captions, some preferred CART, and some preferred ASL interpreters for the spoken part of the conversations. Even though auto-captions are not as accurate as CART transcription, some preferred auto-captions because it has less lag time than CART and the words can be placed near the video of the person speaking to augment speech reading. This taught us that successful on-line meetings of deaf and hard of hearing people should have both CART and auto-captions along with signed language interpreters. 

Another element to providing accessible conversation was to allow pauses during the discussion. This allows interpreters and CART to catch up and gives everyone a bit of time to process language inputs.  We did a better job of this in the April open house than the September open house, which had also included more people and a faster paced conversation.  When conversation pace was too fast, some folks used the chat function to engage others in side conversations –  this meant that there were two conversations going on at once.  In the slower paced April meeting, comments added to the chat were incorporated into the main discussion, which allowed everyone to follow the primary conversation.

What people reported getting out of the open house sessions

The participants (~15 in Sept and ~10 in April) attended to find networking opportunities and a chance to share lived experiences and support each other. The sessions were both 90 minutes long and while we invited folks to come and go as their schedule permits, nearly all participants stayed for the entire session. Conversations ranged from transcription software recommendations, to deaf identity, to learning signed languages, etc. Feedback from participants indicated that they felt supported, listened to, valued and optimistic.  

Going forward 

For both sessions we prepared some question prompts beforehand, but found that conversation flowing naturally after a round of introductions. Participants reported excitement at being able to share conversation topics that were not as readily shared with their hearing colleagues.  Future sessions might focus on particular pre-selected topics or spotlight a profiled person. We would also like to increase international participation, which might mean expanding both spoken and signed languages.

We welcome ideas for future topics of discussion in our open houses, or further modifications to content and form. If there is something that you would like to talk about or have other ideas for getting together or creating community please leave comments below.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

deaf/HoH experiencesteaching

The best place for my hearing aids is on my desk

Instead of expecting me to strive to be a hearing professor, why...

deaf/HoH experiencesmeetings

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: When communication all changed

As a virologist, I had some idea about what was to come;...

deaf/HoH experiencesmeetings

Bridging communication between the hearing and deaf worlds: a conversation with the founders of Ava

Our mission is to make Deaf and hard-of-hearing peoples’ lives easier and...