Love them or hate them, the humble workplace meeting is here to stay. The time employees spend in meetings has risen around 10% each year for the past 19 years. As an organizer of the meetings at your workplace, you might be concerned that not everyone is on the same page. About 60% of those with hearing loss are in work or education. How many of those are on your team?
Barriers to communication
There may be more hearing loss on your team than you think. It’s often called an invisible disability, because the hearing loss is not always apparent by looking at a person. Even if they smile and nod at the appropriate moments, they might be struggling to keep up with the conversations, and leave the meeting embarrassed and self-conscious, having gained nothing from the meeting.
Meetings are a more challenging environment for those with hearing loss because the sounds come from a wider variety of accents, directions and distances that the person with hearing loss normally encounters. With so many people in a room, there might also be a host of distracting noises like someone pouring a coffee, shuffling around in their chair, or coughing. Worse, the person running the meeting often speaks to their own PowerPoint presentation, reducing the ability to lip-read what they are saying.
A smart move would be to ensure your meetings are accessible to those with hearing loss, so that they are able to offer their wisdom to others in the room. Breaking down these communication barriers is the first step to making your meetings accessible.
First step: Encourage openness from your employees with hearing loss
The absolute first step to implementing accessibility is encouraging honesty from your team. Honesty about what they need to do the best job they can. This conversation will become increasingly common as the prevalence of hearing loss in the workplace grows as the retirement age increases.
Simply showing someone that you’re there to help is invaluable. Everyone with hearing loss is different and therefore the assistance needed will vary from person to person. Once an employee shares information about their condition with you, it’s OK to ask how their hearing loss affects what they can hear, and the effect it’s having at work. You can then work with your employee to discuss the support that’s available. Any accessibility improvements to your meetings can then be tailored to the particular needs of your team.
Next step: Make changes as needed
Here are some general tips on how to increase accessibility. Not all of them will be appropriate for your workplace environment or employee’s needs, but it’s hoped that some will be useful for you.
- Allow those with hearing loss the first choice of where to sit in the room. They will likely choose the front of the room as this give them the best chance of lip-reading and understanding the presenter’s words.
- Make sure that the presenter of the meeting is able to give visually engaging presentations, speaks clearly, faces the people in the meeting, and looks for signs that others in the room have understood their main points.
- Write up key points on a flipchart or whiteboard. These can be used as clues to provide context, allowing educated guesses at whatever hasn’t been heard.
- Although this is basic etiquette, some employees struggle to follow it: Set a rule that others in the room shouldn’t talk over each other – only one person should speak at a time.
- Ensure any videos show have captioning included to help the hard-of-hearing follow the video easily.
- This captioning is also starting to be used in real-time environments, whether it be meetings, teleconferences, or any other events. This type of real-time captioning can be made available to everyone in your office on their personal devices like their laptop or phone, and it doesn’t need to be an expensive investment. Even if your team member didn’t hear everything, they can easily read what’s been said and respond with their own thoughts.
Do you struggle to hear in meetings? It’s best to get that checked out sooner rather than later. Schedule a consultation with us today!