New Year’s Resolution: Make Your Workplace Accessible

The new year brings a fresh start to our lives; it’s a natural time to reflect on the year past and make plans for the coming year. For your new year, why not work towards making your academic workplace more accessible for your deaf/HoH colleagues? To help in this effort, we’ve assembled a list of guidelines that might improve your workplace’s inclusivity.

Ideas on this list come from a variety of sources but primarily our own experiences. Would you like to add to or revise the list? We welcome your comments and suggestions directly to the linked  google doc.   We will endeavor to update the list posted below as we collect more comments and suggestions on the google doc. If you find that you want to explore a topic in more detail, we encourage you to write a blog post for The Mind Hears—we will link your post  to this list.

What can you do to improve the academic workplace for your deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues?

Overarching philosophy: If a participant requests accommodation for a presentation or meeting, you can work with them to figure out the best solution. It may be signed interpreters (there are different kinds of signing), oral interpreters, CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), or FM systems (assistive listening devices). It could be rearranging the room or modifying the way that the meeting is run. Keep in mind that what works for one deaf/HoH person may not work for another person with similar deafness. What works for someone in one situation may not work at all for that same person in another situation, even if the situations seem similar to you. The best solution will probably not be the first approach that you try nor may it be the quickest or cheapest approach; it will be the one that allows your deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues to participate fully and contribute to the discussion. Reaching the goal of achieving an academic workplace accessible to deaf/HoH academics is a journey; we’ve assembled this list to capture just a few tools that can help us on this journey.

Presentations  

  • Leave sufficient lights on in the room so that the speaker’s face and interpreters (if present) can be seen.
  • Have presenters use a microphone when it exists; do not let them assume they don’t need amplification. Ditto for audience questions.
    •  Note: check that the microphone system works well before the presentation. A bad microphone system can be worse than none at all
  • Have presenters repeat the questions from the audience before answering
  • If the presenter is deaf/HoH, the convener/host should be ready to repeat audience questions.
  • Encourage all presenters to use real-time auto-caption with Google slidesor Microsoft’s Presentation Translator add-on for PowerPoint (for Windows only at this point). At the end of January 2019, Microsoft Office 365 will include built-in real-time auto-caption. Our experience is that the AI with these programs far outperforms typical voice recognition software and has less lag than CART.
  • If speakers are using videos, encourage them either to turn on captioning for the videos (CC button, usually on lower right) or eliminate use of videos without captioning.
  • If CART services are provided for deaf/HoH participants, consider projecting the captioning onto a screen so that all in the room can benefit.
  • When available, use “looped” rooms for presentations (indicated by the symbol at right) that allow users of hearing aids and cochlear implants with telecoil functionality to access amplified sound directly
    • In the UK and US (2010 update to Americans with Disabilities Act), loop systems are mandated by law for any public venues that have amplified sound (summary of US regulation). However, our experience in the US is that few universities have such rooms for meetings and departmental presentations. In contrast, some of us have noticed that in the UK virtually all public institutions (even grocery stores!), have loop systems, but they are almost never turned on. It may be wise to notify the hosts 2 or more days in advance to make sure the loop system is powered up and turned on.
    • Some hearing aids and cochlear implants may not transmit looped sound and ambient sound at the same time; so don’t bother chatting with your deaf/HoH neighbor during the main presentation!!

Meetings > 10 people (e.g. faculty meetings) 

  • Start the meeting with a communication check. “Is this communication set up working for everyone?”.
  • As much as is possible with a large group, have all participants sit around a table or set of tables so that they face each other.
  • CART services can be helpful for meetings where multiple people are speaking. We have found that having a CART captionist in the room works better than working with a remote  captionist; having several microphones in the room does not always provide clear access to the speakers for the remote captionist.
  • Having a microphone that is passed from speaker and transmitter to a computer can help CART or one of the better-quality real-time auto-captioning softwares.
  • An FM system (assistive listening device) can help for such meetings. Using the microphone/transmitter as a ‘talking stick’ ensures that all conversations are amplified.  You can also place an onmi-directional FM microphone (or, even better, two) in the center of the room to catch conversation around the group.
    • Note: Unlike looped rooms, FM systems work with specific hearing aids or cochlear implants, so if the meeting has more than one deaf/HoH person using FM, the technology issues can become complex.
  • If conversation devolves to rapid interjections, the discussion leader should rein in the conversation and recap what was discussed.
  • For quick conversations, signaling the next speaker, for example by raising a hand, can help deaf/HoH know where to look next for speech reading. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are notoriously bad for directionality of sound and some of us only detect sound on one side. While interpreters strive to indicate who is talking throughout conversations, visual signaling can help us track the conversation
  • The meeting organizer should check in periodically to ensure that the communication environment is working for everyone.
  • A written summary distributed afterwards to meeting participants can ensure that everyone has the same information.

Meetings < 10 people (e.g. committee meetings) 

A lot of the strategies for larger meetings also work for small meeting. The following include notes specifically for meetings of smaller groups.

  • Have participants sit in a circle, so that all faces are visible for speech reading. Conference rooms with long narrow tables can be challenging.
  • Use the smallest room possible to accommodate the size of the meeting
  • Encourage meetings in rooms with minimized resonance; rooms with carpet and soundproof walls are better listening environments. Also, avoid rooms with a lot of external noise (e.g., busy roads or construction).
  • Use rooms with window treatments that can be adjusted to reduce glare so that speakers are not backlit.Discourage people from talking over one another in meetings.
  • Check in periodically to ensure that the communication environment is working for everyone.
  • Deaf/HoH people are notoriously bad at catching jokes, as comments are typically made more quickly they we can track conversation. It can be helpful to repeat jokes for your deaf/HoH neighbor.

Conversations   

  • Face people while conversing.
  • If the deaf/HoH person is using an signing or oral interpreter, direct all conversation to the deaf/HoH person, not the interpreter.
  • When you’re in a noisy room, you won’t be heard by speaking with cupped hands directly into the deaf/HoH person’s ears, because in this situation we can’t speech read your face. Similarly, we cannot understand whispering behind a cupped hand or into our ears. Come to think of it, whispering hardly ever works because the sound and speech reading information are so distorted—best avoided altogether.
  • Avoid covering your mouth. If you are chewing, please wait to speak until you are done chewing. Also avoid blocking visibility of your mouth with your cup at gatherings with coffee/tea.
  • If a deaf/HoH person asks for repetition, please repeat as closely as possible what you just said. Sometimes we hear part but not all. If you change up the words to reframe what you said, we are back to square one.
  • If a deaf/HoH person asks for repetition/clarification, never say “Oh, it’s not important.” This conveys that you don’t value their participation in the conversation. So even if you think your comment is not worth repeating, please repeat yourself to avoid excluding your colleague.
  • When a deaf/HoH person joins the conversation, it’s helpful to give them a little recap of the current topic of discussion.
  • Hearing aid and cochlear implant batteries go dead at the most inopportune times. Most of us go through one or more batteries per aid each week; the chances of this happening while we are in a presentation, meeting, or conversation are quite high. As we search for and replace the fiddly batteries, please keep in mind that we are missing out on the conversation.

Incidental conversations (e.g. passing in the hallway)  

  • When greeting your deaf/HoH colleagues in passing, give a wave. We may not hear a quiet greeting.
  • To get the attention of deaf/HoH colleagues, waving your hand where we can see it is more pleasant than being shouted at.
  • Not all deaf/HoH people wear hearing aids throughout their workday. Some of us enjoy periodically being able to take out our hearing aids or turn off our cochlear implants and focus in the quiet.
  • Our communication skills can vary with fatigue level. The cognitive fatigue of speech reading is taxing so that after a few hours of teaching and meetings with spoken conversation, we may avoid all conversations or switch from speaking to signing.
  • Not all deaf/HoH people speech read. Some of us rely on writing notes or using voice recognition apps on our mobile devices; you may be asked to communicate using modes unfamiliar to you. A motto of the deaf community: use whatever form of communication works.
  • Not all people are easy to speech read. People with facial hair and people who either don’t move their lips/face or over-enunciate can be very difficult to understand. Some of us hear high pitched voices better than low and some of hear low voices better. For better or for worse, many of us avoid conversations with people we don’t understand even though they may be wonderful people. It is not rude to ask if you are easy to understand and how you could be better understood.

You may have noticed that all of these considerations not only increase access for deaf and hard of hearing but make these situations more inclusive for all participants, such as non-native English speakers. Some of these strategies ensure that the loudest in the group doesn’t monopolize conversation and allow space for less confidence participants. If you make your workplace more accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues, you will make a more accessible workplace for everyone.

Other resources for deaf/HoH including papers about d/Deaf in academia

Contributors include: Michele Cooke, Ana Caicedo, Oliver Lamb, Wren Montgomery, Ryan Seslow, Megan Maxwell

Last revision date: 2 January 2019

 

 

Deaf Gain -> diverse and stronger research

Woman gesturing and wearing behind the ear hearing aids
photo by John Solem (UMass Magazine)

-Michele

In May I received the outstanding researcher award from the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst. This was a great honor and I even got to give a 3-minute acceptance speech. While the speech starts with some of the challenges, the main point is that my deafness shapes my approach to science in ways that benefit my research. PhD student extraordinaire, Laura Fattaruso, made a video of me re-enacting the speech and here is the transcript:

Academic success was not always expected of me. I have a severe-profound high-frequency hearing loss and was language delayed in my early education. The letters on the page don’t match the sounds that I hear so it took until 2nd grade for me to figure out the basics of reading.  I also had years of speech therapy to learn how to pronounce sounds that I can’t hear.  Just before middle school, some visual-based aptitude tests showed I actually had some talent and I also started to do well in math.  So, then teachers started expecting more of me and as you probably figured out, I caught up well enough.

Now, as a professor at a University that serves a predominantly hearing community, my broken ears are a nuisance sometimes. But this 3-minute speech is not about overcoming challenges.  Instead, I want to talk about something called <signing Deaf gain>. This sign is translated into English as Deaf gain or Deaf benefit. This term coined by Gallaudet scholars describes the value that Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people provide to the larger community because of their differences.  Our ecology colleagues tell us that more diverse ecological communities can better withstand stress than homogenous communities – so too with science communities. All of our differences make CNS stronger.

Here are three examples of deaf gain in my research approach

Deaf gain1: My way of doing research is intensely visual.  My students know well that I have to show 3D concepts in the air with my hands and sketch whenever we do science.  I don’t believe it until I can see it.  We use the figures in our papers to tell the scientific story.  In this way, my research is not about elegant verbal arguments and instead focuses on connections between ideas and demonstration of geologic processes.   

Deaf gain 2: Deaf are known for being blunt. My students will tell you that my reviews can sometimes be painfully blunt. For deaf scientists, being understood is never taken for granted.  So, we strive for clear and direct communication of our science.

Deaf gain 3: Being deaf in a hearing world requires stamina, courage, empathy, self-advocacy, a flexible neck to lip read people in the corners of the room and a sense of humor.  An added benefit is being able to accessorize using blue hearing aids with blue glitter molds that match any outfit.

 I’ve been lucky to have great students and colleagues who have join up in my Deaf way of science and we’ve had a blast.  Thank you.

Do you share some of these characteristics?  Are there ways that deaf/HoH gain has shaped your scholarship or research?

Teaching (very) large classes

-Ana

This semester I am teaching a large lecture course with about 175 students. I have taught this course 6 times before, with enrollment varying between 150 to 200. To be completely accurate, I only teach a third of the course, usually the first third of the semester, with two hearing faculty leading the other portions. Of course, teaching even a third of a course represents a challenge when your hearing is as crappy as mine. Therefore, my top priority for this class is ensuring that the students and I can communicate effectively (I speech-read and don’t sign). How do I do it? And does it work?

Like much of my professional life, the answer to the question “does it work?” shifts frequently. Some days I come out of class thinking I’ve nailed it and given students the educational experience they deserve. Other days, not so much. But, for better or worse, here is what I do:

I start out by making a very explicit announcement about being deaf/HoH the first day of class. I love the language that Michele used in her recent post about announcing your deafness to your class, and am thinking of borrowing some of this language next semester. Besides giving students tips on how best to communicate with me, my main preoccupation this first day is to emphasize that my deafness should not in any way scare them from asking questions, as I will work hard to ensure our communication. In a class this size, I am not always 100% sure I am getting this message across, but I try.

The second thing I started doing 3 or 4 years ago is using clickers. This classroom response system allows students to use handheld remotes to choose from alternative answers to a question I have posed, and I can assess their understanding in real-time. For me, this opportunity to interact with ALL students in my very large class, bypassing the usual difficulties of oral communication, is a radical departure from the usual state of affairs. I really like clickers, and love not having to dread the very solid silence that sometimes followed my lobbing a question to the class, while vainly hoping that an individual would venture an answer. However, clicker questions only go in one direction; they are no substitute for class discussion or questions asked by students.

So the final frontier—answering students’ questions! Large classes are, by their very nature, less interactive than smaller ones, as students are much more reticent about speaking out. I will here make a shameful confession in the era of “active learning” buzzwords—I derive some amount of comfort (or at least a decrease in anxiety) from knowing that a large class means fewer questions for me. Of course, questions still get asked, so the problems remain (and what serious instructor would prefer that their students ask less questions?!).

Walking up to students when they ask a question is not really an option in this course. I teach in auditorium-style classrooms and there is no way to get close to a student sitting in the middle of a row. What I have been doing instead is getting myself a student translator. I don’t have a TA, so I designate somebody in the class, ideally seated in the first row, to repeat questions for me. I have tried a few different student translator strategies. One semester I hired a work-study student to perform this role. The student was not a biology major and struggled mightily with the scientific vocabulary in the class—which meant that I struggled to understand the questions. I chalked this up as one of my not-so-good semesters. Another semester I asked a different student in the course to play the translator role each class period (in the interest of not overburdening anybody); this led to a lot of re-explaining of what I needed at the start of each class, which in turn led to awkwardness. Most semesters what I’ve done is ask two students—one for each side of the room—at the beginning of the semester if they are willing to play this role.

In general, things worked better once I started asking enrolled students for help, as students immersed in the class are very capable of understanding their classmates’ questions. A nice consequence is that most students feel surprised and elated to be asked to perform the translator role (that said, a few students have turned me down). Yet each year I find myself re-evaluating what I do. There can (and have been for me) hiccups with this approach. Examples are, designated students missing a class, leaving you without a translator.  Or, students’ unease about speaking up in large classes might result in your designated translator whispering, and now you have TWO students you can’t understand; to work around this, I have occasionally fitted my student translator with a directional mic that my FM system can pick up, but have found the amplified sound of notebook pages being turned too overwhelming. Finally, there is that constant whispering doubt: is it fair to ask a student to perform this extra bit of work for me?

You will notice an underlying thread to these strategies. At no point have I asked my university or department for help (though I should clarify that my department contributed to the work-study hire I once tried). Why not? Hmm, this sounds like material for another blog post. What I’m doing seems, for the most part, to be working for me so far. But there is room for improvement. I would be thrilled to hear from other deaf/HoH instructors about the strategies used to manage large classes.

Making an impact at high-stakes conferences

meeting presentation

-Michele

You are at a conference with ~150 experts in your sub-discipline from all around the world. The purpose of the conference is to advance our understanding by fostering in depth group discussions after provocative talks. This is the kind of conference where careers are made through well-delivered talks and insightful contributions to the discussion.  While hearing academics may relish the opportunity to participate in such a conference, for us deaf/HoH academic these conferences are obstacles to our success.

For these small conferences you are likely the only person who needs accommodation for deafness and because the conference is small they are likely not prepared to accommodate your needs. This means that you may spend a lot of time and effort figuring out accommodations that will work for you.  If you have a personal FM system, you can put it at the podium, but you will miss the questions. If you sit up front to hear the speaker, you will need to turn around to speech-read the discussion contributors. If you are able to have CART (real time captioning) or interpreters, they might quickly become lost in the technical language and variety of accents at an international conference of specialists. If you bring your own sign languages interpreters who are familiar with your expertise, you can reduce this problem; but interpreter lag can impede participating in fast-paced discussions. No matter what strategies you use, let’s face it, you are working twice as hard just to understand the material as your hearing neighbor and you aren’t going to get 100% of the information.

A high stakes conference with non-ideal lecture and discussion format can be a major career challenge for deaf/HoH academics!

You want people at specialty conferences to know that you know your stuff and have good ideas.  If you can’t do this by contributing to the group discussion at these high stakes conferences, can you be successful in your field? I think so and I will share some the approaches that have worked for me (full professor, moderate-profound loss, good speech reading skills).

I almost never speak up in the discussions.  The high probability of me asking a question that everyone knows the answer to because they heard the issue discussed seems too risky.  While I admire folks who can say “Maybe this was explained and I didn’t catch it, but (insert question)” I haven’t been able to do this at high-stakes conferences. My fear is that my colleagues will think that I wasn’t paying attention and dozed off when the topic was discussed. The truth is that even using 120% of my ‘attention’, I’m going to miss a lot of the discussion – but hearing people don’t often understand that so they may presume I was lazily dozing off.

The good news is that a lot of the networking at these conferences happens outside of the auditorium. We deaf/HoH can get our networking game going during meals, poster sessions, the food/beverage line, walking around the venue etc.  Sometimes, I seek people out for research conversations with pre-planned questions to help launch the discussion.   These informal settings are not without challenges (subjects of other blog posts!) but you have more control over these settings. For example, you can suggest moving a small group discussion outside of the noisy poster hall, your requests for clarification are more acceptable in small groups and you may have an opportunity to educate folks on the challenges of your deafness. While, your hearing peers will make clever comments in the formal group discussion and immediately earn the admiration of the big-shots, you can capture their attention through multiple small or one-on-one thoughtful discussions. It takes a bit longer this way, for sure.  What I’ve found is that those one-on-one discussions provide rich foundation for long-standing collaborations and friendships. For me, this has been the most rewarding aspect of high-stakes conferences.

Note: This blog was drafted at a high-stakes Gordon conference on Rock Deformation during a talk that was utterly indecipherable to me.  Writing this, instead of struggling with the talk, was my way of saving my energy for coffee break discussions where my game will be on.  I got this!

The more I missed, the more I made

RyanSeslow1

-Ryan

I am overcoming a lot of my fears by directly putting myself in positions where I have to talk about how hearing loss and being deaf has affected my life. As a college professor (yep, for 14.5 years now) my job requires me to be in front of a lot of people each and every day. I have been trying to be more direct with my students and colleagues, and tell them how I feel and what I need from them. My honesty about who I am and what I am missing makes getting to mutual feelings of compassion and empathy a little easier. This mutual empathy helps both parties make the emotional connection that I feel is necessary in education.

Often, I have to ask people to repeat themselves, or to speak more slowly, or loudly. I often incorrectly answer questions and everyone laughs or looks at me with a priceless look of confusion. These things also make me laugh as shared misunderstandings create connections and remind me to take myself lighter. That connection is where I begin to know someone, because they would now know me as I am. I need to be more honest and forward about why. It is my responsibility to make people aware of what and how much I am missing. It is natural to seek deeper meaning out of yourself and examine how that applies to the world around you. We grow through such self-discovery as we interpret ourselves in relationship to our time here on this planet. I have, however, learned the hard way that it can slip away all too fast if we hide from ourselves. Hiding only seems to perpetuate more hiding. I often wonder how many other people with severe hearing loss and deafness are out there hiding from their deafness as I used to do?

Dealing with this process of healing and facing my fears (it’s an ongoing process), I recently had an epiphany about my work as an artist. Possibly you are already familiar with my work, but if not, I have been a high-volume output kind of artist for my whole life. My style is to make many things At Once. Volume and production, productions in volumes and accumulation. What a great metaphor, and right under my nose! By connecting my hearing limitations to the question, “Why do I make so much stuff?” or “Why have I put the emphasis on physical output and high volume of works produced?” I suddenly get it. My work habits are all about filling in the fear of how much I have been missing and have missed in this world.

Overcompensation.

I missed a lot beginning in early childhood; and as I grew older, the more I was not hearing the more art I would make. Production and Volume = Missing. The funny part is, most of the art that I make and have made is not dark or representative of my frustration. I do not try to communicate unhappiness, but I do see a huge common thread of a lack of meaning in my work before I became more aware of the impact of my deafness. Subsequently, the context of my art has changed and this plays a huge role in the kind of work that I greatly need and want to produce. The best is really yet to come.

RyanSeslow2

The animations in this post continue to explore the soundless looping GIF format. These pieces begin as digital image fractures and manipulations. They are re-composed and organized as new imagery and content. How does that process play a role in communication? Missing 5-8 words in any sentence can have a profound effect on how one may respond, comprehend or take away from an interaction. What does this look like when that actual missing fragment(s) take place? Repetition is used to display the distortions and metaphors for how this experience may be interpreted visually. If you are a hearing person viewing these animations you may be “missing” the usual audio aspect to the videos you see, watch, and hear each day.

This post is slighted edited from the original on Ryan Seslow’s blog  where you can see more of his art.

What’s In a Name?

—Ana

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

― William ShakespeareRomeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s quote is overused, but the temptation to use it for today’s blog topic was irresistible. I would like to tackle the topic of labels—specifically the question of what label we, individuals who have varying degrees of hearing loss, use to describe our deafness within our professional academic environment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that around 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss (this is a bit over 5% of the population).1They define “disabling hearing loss” as hearing loss greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better-hearing ear in adults, and greater than 30 dB in the better-hearing ear in children. The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), reports approximately 48 million people in the United State (almost 20% of the population) with some degree of hearing loss.2Because the HLAA estimate includes individuals with slight to severe levels of hearing difficulty (16-90 dB) as well as those with profound hearing loss (>90 dB), their percentage estimate for the U.S. is greater than the WHO’s worldwide percentage estimate. Nevertheless, the numbers help with an important point. Hearing loss is a widespread, worldwide condition; however, how different countries address issues concerning deaf/HoH individuals can vary widely. When it comes to labels, I can only speak to my experiences of living in Colombia and the U.S. I’d like to recount this limited experience and how it has shaped my views, but I really hope our international colleagues will chime in with information that can increase our awareness of how deaf/HoH labels are viewed or used worldwide.

In the U.S., the currently prevalent and most accepted terms seem to be deaf, Deaf, and hard of hearing (see, for example, recommendations from the National Association for the Deaf).3Capitalizing the ‘D’ in Deaf holds special meaning in encompassing a group of deaf people that share a language (ASL) and a culture, and advocacy by Deaf people has contributed enormously to a nuanced understanding of how those in the deaf/HoH communities identify themselves.

In Colombia, the word “sordo” (Spanish for deaf) is the only label I know for people with hearing loss. However, “sordo” often conjures the image of a person who communicates exclusively by signed language (note, however, that Colombia did not officially recognize Colombian sign language until 1997).4Moreover, a 1996 law created to define the rights of deaf people in Colombia defines “sordo” as a person who presents a hearing loss of more than 90 dB that impedes acquisition and utilization of spoken language in adequate form.4 As an individual who relies primarily on hearing aids for communication, I have often felt at a loss in Colombia for words to describe myself, since “sordo” seems to have such a narrow definition. As a country, Colombia has not undertaken a comprehensive discussion about the best language to use when characterizing people with disabilities, to the extent that I know of no widespread recognized term for myself. Thus, for me, the abundance of labels to choose from in the U.S., even if each comes with some historical baggage, has always felt like a relief.

Perhaps this partly explains why I often reach for a term to describe myself that has fallen out of favor among many: “hearing impaired.” My comfort with this term may also stem from my scientific background. It feels like a useful description that (most of the time) explains relatively accurately that I have difficulty hearing, but will communicate through oral means (with all its attendant problems). Calling myself hearing impaired seems to me equivalent to saying that I am very nearsighted (and thus the shape of my eye causes images to be focused in front of my retina), or that I have a skin discoloration caused by a vascular anomaly (i.e. a port-wine stain) on my left hand. I’m not bothered by the term’s focus on something about me being “wrong.” Maybe because I’m a biologist I feel very aware that my sensorineural hearing loss is due to damage to my tiny cochlear hair cells, so that they cannot accurately transmit sound vibrations to my auditory nerve for my brain to interpret. “Damaged cells” fits comfortably within my definition of impairment.

Do I worry that the label I use will be taken by others to define me? The thing is, I do feel that my hearing loss contributes to who I am. Being Colombian also contributes to who I am, as does being an evolutionary biologist, being nearsighted, and being an introvert (which is probably due to some aspect of brain chemistry somewhere). The color of my skin, the color of my hair, my physical dexterity (or lack thereof) all contribute to who I am. None of these traits explains everything about me, but I am fairly certain that they, and others I do not list, have all shaped the person I am today. I therefore find it hard to get riled up about being referred to as hearing impaired or a hard of hearing person.

So what label to use? My opinion is that is that your label should be the one that you prefer. A label should feel accurate, non stigmatizing, non belittling, and comfortable. But the flip side to that is that nobody, not even our fellow deaf/HoH academics, can possibly guess what we prefer. The onus is thus on each of us to introduce ourselves, and let our colleagues know how we identify. And the onus is also on each of us to be kind and patient when our colleagues use something other than our label of preference.

What do you think? Is there an optimal way to refer to all deaf/HoH people in our community? An optimal way to introduce ourselves to our academic colleagues and students?

To our academic colleagues outside the United States: we need to hear from you to help us achieve an expanded understanding of the deaf/HoH experience around the world. How do you most often refer to yourself to others? Are certain labels regarded negatively?

 

1http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss

2https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52814-Hearing-loss-statistics-at-a-glance

3https://www.nad.org/resources/american-sign-language/community-and-culture-frequently-asked-questions/

4Zambrano-Valdivieso, O; Almeida-Salinas, O; Suárez-Uribe, E; Restrepo-Pineda, J. (2017). La enseñanza de la lengua de señas colombiana como estrategia pedagógica para la inclusión educative—Estudio de caso. Revista Inclusión & Desarrollo, 5 (1), 37-48.

How do you introduce your deafness to your class?

– Michele

The first class meeting of every semester includes imparting a vast amount of different kinds of information. Professors endeavor to make their brief introduction to the course content engaging and relevant, while also outlining expectations of the students and establishing course ground rules. Covering all this within 50 minutes is exhausting for everyone. If we are deaf/HoH and our students are hearing, at what point during that first course meeting do we mention our deafness? How do we explain that our deafness might affect students’ experience since we may teach our courses differently than hearing instructors do?

One strategy is not to mention our deafness and hope it doesn’t come up. I’ve tried that. Or you have every intention of telling them, but in the kerfuffle of sorting out all the course logistics on that first day, you forget. I’ve done that, too. Of course, you can always bring up your deafness later in the semester, but I’ve found that the first class is the easiest time to do so. The course instruction seems to go more smoothly when students know early on that I might not always hear them and they understand why I speak and behave the way that I do.

So after I introduce my name and my background that establishes my expertise in the course content, I have a standard spiel that seems to work for both large and small classes. I say:

I’m part deaf, so I wear hearing aids and depend on speech reading. What this means is that I may ask you to repeat your question/comment. That doesn’t at all mean you asked a bad question, it just means I didn’t catch it. This also means that if you say something while I’m facing away from you, I may not respond no matter how brilliant the comment/question. You can help me out by waving your hand to catch my attention before you speak. You should expect that I may walk right up to you when I ask you to repeat a question/comment because I really want to hear what you have to say. You can also expect that I will never talk while writing on the board because for me, effective communication involves facing each other.

Maybe this presents the students with a lot of new ideas early in the class. Maybe they want their money back after learning their professor has broken ears. Maybe, on the other hand, this introduction reminds them that professors are human. Maybe my approach to establishing a deaf-friendly classroom will show them that there is no single or proper way to run a classroom or to learn.

How do you introduce yourself to your class on the first day?

 

Why the world needs another blog

— Ana and Michele

We are two deaf/HoH tenured scientists at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and this summer we decided we needed to create a blog.

For Ana it was the cumulative frustration of feeling that after almost 12 years of teaching, she often still struggled with the same instructional challenges that had bedeviled her at the beginning of her career. For Michele it was a realization that she had shed her fear of having her hearing loss define her professional image as a research scientist. For both of us, it was a wearying sense that for too long we had each been re-inventing the wheel—continuously looking for solutions to problems that we cannot possibly have been the first or only ones to experience. “If only we had other people like us to talk to and exchange ideas with,” we thought. “Faculty who also fret about the best way to introduce their hearing loss to their students; postdocs who also have to worry about how to handle the soft-spoken person in the back row asking a question after their talk; grad students who are also trying to crack the code on how to be full participants in fast-paced journal clubs.” In the past, we had individually (and unsuccessfully) searched for blogs by deaf/HoH people working in academic settings that shared their experiences. This summer it finally dawned on us that we could create our own.

“But wait a moment!” you may ask. “You both work in the same institution—surely you talked to each other and exchanged strategies for success?” We’re somewhat embarrassed to admit that in all of our years of overlap at UMass, we actually didn’t engage that much with each other. The reasons for this are varied and nuanced and may be good sources for future blog posts. When Ana mentioned the idea of a blog to Michele a few months ago, we both instantly realized, this is it. We need to do this! We are on a mission, because people like us need this blog! So, despite all the myriad other demands on our time, we are making a blog.

Our aspiration is to create a forum for discussing the unique challenges shared by deaf/HoH professionals in an academic environment. We have two main objectives: first to build a network of academics with hearing loss from all career stages and from a diversity of fields. Through this network, our second objective is to share experiences, failures, and, most importantly, potential solutions to the professional challenges we encounter.

People with hearing loss make up 15% of the adult U.S. population, with likely similar percentages worldwide, but the proportion undeniably becomes smaller in academia. Because of our small numbers, our best shot at creating a community is online. The community we are gathering runs the gamut of experiences. It encompasses people who are recently deafened to those who were born deaf; those with mild hearing loss to those who cannot hear any sounds; individuals who communicate primarily through sign languages and those who do so verbally; academics in predominantly-hearing institutions and those at Deaf-serving institutions; graduate students initiating their careers, postdocs questioning their next step, and senior faculty who can impact academic culture; deaf/HoH people working in every academic discipline; academics in countries with abundant accommodations for deaf/HoH individuals, and academics in countries with more limited resources. Because the hearing loss experience is so variable and affects each of us in different ways, our best bet at finding solutions and workarounds to the challenges we each face is by including all of our diverse experiences in this shared forum.

We need to come together because being a person with hearing loss in an academic environment is hard. The daily exhaustion of communicating in non-ideal settings, anticipating and planning for future communication challenges, educating unaware individuals, and dealing with the social isolation resulting from communication challenges can drain us of energy, ambition, and time. We will blog about these challenges! While there is comfort in sharing stories and realizing that others are going through similar experiences, we aspire for this blog to transcend being merely a “complaint forum.” Instead, by sharing various ways that we approach different challenges, we hope to build a community toolbox of solutions.

If you are a deaf/HoH academic, please consider contributing blog posts or becoming involved in the discussions. If you know of a deaf/HoH colleague, please spread the word about our blog and help us grow our network. If you want to learn more about the deaf/HoH experience, ask questions and follow this blog. You can help TheMindHears strengthen its impact so that it provides value to each of those who visit.