Ideas for Ears: Hearing Access – what it is

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Hearing access recognises the fundamental importance of people being able to chat, discuss and follow the spoken word.  It is about making hearing and following conversation and audible information more possible for more people. It is crucial for ensuring equality, diversity and inclusion.

The practical application of hearing access encompasses:  

  1. provision of the right audio equipment (PA systems, hearing loops, microphones) and ensuring they are set up and used appropriately and effectively
  2. creation of environments where noise and acoustics are managed so noise levels don’t build and sound doesn’t echo and spread
  3. presenters and speakers being aware of their volume, pace and diction
  4. management of details such as lighting, visual distractions, room layout, visibility of speakers/mouths
  5. using text-based information to support auditory information

Level of hearing ability is often NOT the determinant for how well someone will hear and follow what is said.  Most people with hearing loss have the capability to hear and follow what is said well or adequately, so long as the environment is right.

For instance, it is perfectly possible for the same person to hear and follow a conversation with effortless ease – then an hour later to find it impossible to discern any of what is said.  The dramatic difference is not caused by a sudden change in the individual’s actual hearing, it is caused by environment, the situation, and/or the people being engaged with.

Hearing access is about managing the elements that affect the way people hear and follow conversation and audible information.

The importance of hearing access is steadily gaining ground and is catching the attention of the Scottish Parliament.  Mark Griffin MSP and Convenor of the Cross Party Group on Deafness recently said: “It is vitally important that we consider how hearing access is prioritised to ensure greater public involvement and participation in the many varied events that we have.”  

Jeremy Balfour MSP and Convenor of the Cross Party Group on Disability, said, “Hearing access needs to be a priority, and I support the Ideas for Ears’ view that among people in Scotland who have hearing loss, the majority have the capability to hear and follow what is being said well or adequately as long as the environment is right. Sadly, by and large, the environment in many workplaces, including this one, is still not right for people with hearing loss.”

Hearing access requires particular attention when it comes to meetings, conferences and events.  To guide the requirements of what is needed, the UK’s first Hearing Access Protocol has been published. The Hearing Access Protocol sets out the roles and responsibilities for different parties in ensuring hearing access is delivered.  Within it you will find ‘Must-Dos’ for:

  • Everyone attending that meeting/event
  • People with hearing loss
  • Presenters/speakers
  • Organiser of the meeting/event
  • Facility manager/owner of the venue

The protocol has been developed by Ideas for Ears through community collaboration and support by Disability Equality Scotland, deafscotland and the Scottish Health & Social Care Alliance. 

Much of the guidance in the protocol is good practice in general and can benefit people far beyond those with hearing loss.  It is about accessible information and inclusive communication in general.

Ideas for Ears runs workshops on hearing access, including:

  • Hearing access: what it means and why it matters
  • Meeting the Must-Do requirements of the Hearing Access Protocol
  • Being a confident advocate of the communication support that you need, prefer or require
  • Masterclass for presenters on pace, volume, diction and delivery style
  • Troubleshooting audio equipment: learning what’s what and what’s required

Find out more:  |

Article by Sally Shaw, founder & director of Ideas for Ears, and the 2019 Scottish Sensory and Equality Champion of the Year for her work on hearing access.