It was a dimly lit restaurant and our over-50 crowd struggled to read the menu. One friend turned on her flashlight, another put on reading glasses, and a third used the magnifier app on her phone. Easily accessed workarounds helped each of us to get the information we needed from the menu.
But then the waiter arrived to tell us the specials. The loud music and clattering cutlery from the other tables drowned out his voice. Mumble, mumble, mumble was all that we heard.
One of us asked for a repeat, but it was just as hard to understand the second time. Speechreading helped us get some of it and together we cracked the code, but it was a multi-step process that had us vowing to order straight from the menu next time!
What we really needed were visual cues.
Visual Cues Key with Hearing Loss
People say that when one sense is diminished, the others grow stronger to compensate. I’m not sure this is a one for one relationship—for example, my vision hasn’t improved as my hearing loss worsened—but the way I use visual information has certainly changed for the better. Necessity is the mother of invention.
- Safety announcement on an airplane? I look to the screen for captions. Sadly, so far there have never been any, but there are usually printed instructions in the seat pocket.
- Flight changes at the airport? I seek out the terminal monitors for more information or better yet, reference the airline’s mobile app on my phone.
- Ordering in a restaurant? My eyes scour the walls and tabletop for a blackboard or other written information detailing the specials.
- Checking out at a store? I may not hear the cashier asking me to input my PIN, but I can easily follow the prompts on the payment keypad.
- Webinar or video conference call? I eagerly enable the CC button to turn on the captions. I only wish Zoom made it easier to turn them on without help from others.
The list goes on and on.
Put It in Writing
If your business interacts with the general public, many of your customers likely have hearing loss and may struggle to understand your important marketing, safety and/or procedural communications. The same is probably true for your employees too.
What can help? Put it in writing!
- Include captions on all video content on your website, in training materials and on-site
- Post important instructions or safety information prominently for visual review
- Accompany auditory announcements with written reinforcement
- Enable automatic captions on all video platforms for use by your customers on demand
- Supply all financial, medical, and legal data in written form
When you provide information in multiple ways, you meet the varied needs of all your clients. This is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for business.
Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.