One of our editors, Morten Roar Berg, has recently been a speaker at an event for hearing impaired people. Here are his reflections after the event.
Recently I had the pleasure of doing my first presentation for a crowd with either inborn hearing impairment or hearing damage. It really broadened my professional perspective.
In my work with acoustic design, I have never really interacted with hearing impaired users. And even though having some solid academic understanding of the subject, the human and lived understanding still eluded me, I guess.
It struck me how eager they were to learn about acoustics, architecture, noise and a host of other subjects that we touched upon during the presentation. They were so engaged that we barely made it through the planned presentation. This was definitely not a crowd of victims but a group of engaged, smart and passionate people ready to take on their challenges with as many tools as they could get their hands on.
However I was surprised and a little bit appalled by how many of their problems arouse, not from them, but from the ignorance of people around them. Also over the lacking attention to acoustics in architecture to the technical grandstanding of the business and much more. I think they deserve all the support we can give them. And besides, far more of us will have varying degrees of hearing damage in the future according to the statistics.
So here are 5 tips for the hearing impaired:
1. Speak up!
Don’t be afraid to make yourself noticed. Ask people to repeat themselves, ask the waiter to give you the best acoustic spot in the restaurant, ask your colleagues to keep it down, ask your architect friends to design more with their ears and ask your teachers to speak more slowly. If you don’t ask you won’t get the conditions you require, it is as simple as that. Take your time to explain your situation as well.
Like me, most people don’t really know what people with hearing impairment are dealing with. Keep that in mind.
Explain it like you would to a child or a dear friend and don’t hesitate to describe what this actually means to you in detail. It is much easier to respect somebody else’s needs if you really understand the underlying reasons and consequences. – I know it can feel weird to draw attention to your needs or teaching “normal” people around you about sound, but with time it will become second nature. The people who can’t respect it are not worth having around either way.
Above all else, don’t be afraid to ask for good acoustic conditions at your place of work. Even if you live in a country that have acoustic requirements for working environments many spaces still don’t comply. Everybody deserves to work in a suitable acoustic environment.
2. Use tools to communicate what you experience.
Sound is elusive and people are forgetful. Sometimes you just need that external source of objective validation of a problem to get someone to change their behavior. Learn how to use tools that tell the story for you through data. This could be noise apps, noise maps or even installations like SoundEar that provide visual stimuli if noise levels are too high.
Even though these tools are not necessarily compliant with standards for measurement they can provide you with some tangible guiding figures. This gives you an external source of validation and easily communicated data. This tip definitely works better in conjunction with Tip 1. It’s not always effective to show a decibel number on your phone if people don’t understand the metric or your situation.
3. Be aware of your surroundings
Actually, acoustics can vary greatly in the same room, as alluded to earlier in this article. Begin to explore the feel of different acoustic spots and learn to read to cues with your eyes. Likewise, get a basic understanding of acoustic materials and design, much of which can be found on this webpage, so you can spot the best place in the café to have your coffee or recommend placements of acoustic materials in your office. And lastly, draw upon the experiences of others and share your own knowledge through apps like SoundPrint to find or avoid places with bad acoustics.
4. Go beyond hearing impairment
It is safe to say that effect of sound and acoustics on people with normal hearing are greatly underappreciated. A robust body of research demonstrates just how detrimental bad acoustics are for people. From collation to grades over cardiovascular stress to draining of short term memory; noise is serious and affect everybody. Learn about how important sound actually is for people in general and you will have the arguments why acoustics should be improved not just for you but for the sake of your colleagues and the sustainability of your organization.
5. Join the fight for noise awareness!
Noise is a serious and growing problem. Around 10.000 Europeans are estimated to lose their lives each year from stroke and cardiovascular disease directly linked to noise induced stress and as mentioned earlier more and more people suffer from hearing impairments and tinnitus. Join up with other sound enthusiasts and organizations to make this a priority in the public debate. Keep yourself up to speed here on acoustic bulletin and on sites like ExploreSound and EuroAcoustics.
This problem has been underappreciated for a long time, but together we can make that change!
Thank you for your attention and good luck.