Today’s post is written by Zina Jawadi, a medical school student at UCLA with prelingual bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. In this post, Zina explains what people with hearing loss can teach industry about better communication.
At the end of our first full week of working from home due to the COVID-19 crisis, my team held a 20-person meeting over Zoom. Cheering to a hard week of working from home, attendees turned off Mute to start clapping. Unlike the other team members, I applauded the Deaf way, using sign language, which I felt was appropriate for a virtual meeting – raising, waving, and shaking my hands along with an expressive face. My team loved the idea and followed my lead.
A week later, in another large meeting, the head of my team used the Deaf silent applause. I was touched that my team had remembered this small tidbit. My voice as a hearing loss advocate felt valued, and I realized how much the world can benefit from the communication styles of the hearing loss community during this COVID-19 crisis.
Virtual Meetings Highlight the Need for Communication Best Practices
With social distancing, virtual meetings, and working from home, effective forms of verbal and nonverbal communication are more important than ever. As compared to phone calls, video calls provide enhanced abilities to read someone’s body language. Utilizing virtual whiteboards for brainstorming sessions allows for visual ways to illustrate concepts, making it easier to follow unstructured conversations. Sending next steps in an email promotes accountability and sets clear expectations. The world is beginning to prioritize written forms of communication, speechreading, and active listening, communication best practices that the hearing loss community have always used.
The same is true with technology. Many technologies that support people with hearing loss have revolutionized the world, not just in the COVID-19 crisis, but for decades. Although I strongly disapprove of his view on deafness, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone for people with hearing loss. Dr. Vinton Cerf reported that he invented the Internet in part to help people with hearing loss. Speech-to-text technology, such as Google’s Live Transcribe, is an extraordinarily powerful tool with a wide range of applications for both hearing and hard-of-hearing people. Hearing aids have inspired the hearables industry.
Today, the entire world is relying on these very tools to work from home in order to flatten the COVID-19 curve.
Tips For Inclusive Virtual Meetings
Here are some tips for making your next virtual meeting more inclusive for people with hearing loss.
- Create multi-sensory experiences by using visual features, to ensure that the meeting is not solely audio based. For instance, Zoom has annotations and whiteboard features. Write down the key transitions and main points being brought up by others on the screen. Alternatively, a meeting attendee can share a screen and type in Word.
- To minimize background noise, turn on Mute when not speaking.
- Turn on videos so others can speech-read. Research shows that nonverbal communication is often as important as verbal communication.
- Make sure that only one person is speaking at a time.
- Summarize key points and next steps in a follow-up email.
- Ensure everyone is in a quiet room with good Wi-Fi connectivity.
- Have all meeting attendees test their microphones to make sure the sound is loud enough.
- Utilize headphones, if needed, to hear better.
- Make sure there is no light behind you, which prevents others from seeing your face clearly and from speech-reading.
For more tips, see Hearing Loss Association of America’s employment toolkit.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, I hope that the world continues to apply the skills of effective listening valued and relied on by the hearing loss community. I hope that we better appreciate the hearing loss community. And most importantly, I hope that society continues to value and learn from the hearing loss community.
About the author
Zina Jawadi is a medical school student at UCLA. She previously worked in decision analytics for ZS Associates, an international management consulting firm specializing in health care. Zina has a BS in biology and an MS in bioengineering, both from Stanford University. Zina serves on the national Board of Directors of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). She was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the HLAA California State Association, where she held the officer positions of secretary, vice president, and president. Zina has prelingual bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and wears hearing aids.