This report by Jacky Thomas of Devizes on the recent AM workshop first appeared in the Devizes Quaker Newsletter and is reproduced with permission
On 4 August I attended a workshop at Bradford on Avon Meeting House to consider the problems experienced by people with hearing difficulties. I expected it to be about how this affects our Meetings but it was much wider than that. There were about a dozen of us and we were divided into two groups reflecting our hearing ability by the facilitator, Alan Pleydell.
Our discussion ranged over three headings which were inevitably interlinked. The headings were:
- hearing loss and the isolation that can cause
- one-to-one communications
- the wider dimension and responsibilities of public organisations.
Hearing loss and the isolation that can cause
- The initial discussion was around the personal experience of those with hearing loss in our group and particularly in the Meeting House.
- The use of the hearing loop was considered including settings for hearing aids and the position to sit in the room. There was a wide variety of hearing aids with the attendant features of each. One or two members had a roving mike which can focus on a particular speaker in a group situation. It can be a spy mechanism!
- We were advised to speak audibly, visibly and with attention to consonants which tend to get lost first. Facing the person with hearing difficulty and not covering the mouth can aid lip-reading which many people pick up unintentionally but which can really help. We were advised of lip-reading classes that can teach those growing deafer with age who have not picked up this skill.
- One affected person commented that hearing-impaired people don’t know how loud their own voice is.
- There was a mixture of private care and NHS support among the group reporting. One member remarked she had to be careful to take off her hearing aid before showering!
- In meeting two ideas were proposed for when someone cannot hear ministry. One is to say, ‘Our Friend is not heard’, but possibly better because it does not interrupt the speaker is to raise a hand. That does mean that those giving ministry need to look around the meeting which may be intimidating for people unused to speaking in a public setting. Could we make use of these ideas?
- People may experience grief at loss of hearing.
- Loss of hearing usually means no theatre, music, TV without subtitles which may be inadequate especially on i-player.
- In conversation it can be easy to mishear and so misunderstand or miss information which can make it hard to maintain friendships.
- Some people are reluctant to use their hearing aid but are advised to keep it in all the time so the brain can get used to it.
- Crowds and parties can be a problem as background noise interferes with hearing what is being said. That discourages sufferers from enjoying those situations. They find it necessary to be sure what they hear before participating in a conversation and this can be very tiring.
- One aspect of hearing is that we pick up emotion from tone of voice and this can make it difficult for those with hearing loss to interpret the mood of the person speaking.
- Hearing loss can have a serious effect on social life by excluding the individual from activities either by being excluded by others of self-exclusion because it is just too difficult to hear what is going on.
- Not being heard is painful because it removes the ability to contribute and be included. The response to being misunderstood can be ‘Oh don’t bother then’ which further excludes the deaf person.
- Finding the direction of the speaker if not directly in front can be irritating. Lack of clear communication can provoke impatience on both sides especially when the hearing partner does not understand the problem.
- There can be compensatory activities, other senses may be more acute and gesture can be a great help.
- Hearing loss may be a result of a brain problem rather than being sited in the ear.
- All of us make assumptions about others and this can be unhelpful. Discreet hearing aids may be nicer cosmetically but having a visible one can make it easier for others to understand that they need to communicate clearly. For those with no problem it is easy to forget during a conversation that they need to make more effort to be heard.
- We briefly touched on signing and advocacy but the session was not long enough to go into that in detail.
The wider context
- We were reminded that we need to take care of our hearing. Loud music and other noise can damage hearing and there has been a rise in tinnitus.
- Background music in shops and restaurants can inhibit conversation. We can try asking for it to be turned off. The reason for doing it is said to be that people like it but many don’t and they are not necessarily hard of hearing.
- Education must play a part in supporting those with hearing loss.
- For children especially it is important to have regular checks as early diagnosis can make the solutions simpler.
- It can be difficult to contact companies such as electricity companies about problems by telephone. Email can be useful for this.
- Acoustics in building can make hearing more difficult.
- The new name for RNID is Action for Hearing Loss.
Jacky concludes: I am glad I attended this workshop where I was warmly welcomed and hope we can make it easier for people attending the meeting to participate as well as passing on information to hirers.