People who can’t hear well at meetings tend to avoid them. This means their voices are left out of focus groups and community consultations. Consequently, hearing issues are not heard or catered for (excuse pun). It also means they don’t go to group events at restaurants or even family gatherings because it gets frustrating and also tiring when trying to concentrate on listening all the time. Ideas for Ears in the UK is actively advocating for people with hearing loss and has developed the Hearing Access Protocol for meetings and events. it provides guidance on how to run meetings and events so people with any hearing ability can hear and follow them. The Protocol was developed by people with hearing loss. You can download the PDF version of the Protocol. People with hearing loss should be able to participate in civic events and activities on the same basis as others.
Many people have heard of hearing loops, but few understand the options and how they work. Ideas for Ears in the UK tweeted a blog article with some explanations of the differences. Some systems are suited for face to face customer service, others are suited for large auditoriums. Then there are others that are portable. Knowing which one to use and when is critical for people who need them. Yes, a reminder that one in six people have hearing loss. For an Australian look at these systems, ClearaSound has some good fact sheets that explain the systems really well. However, even when the equipment is installed, the sound professionals or other responsible staff do not check to see if it is working at all times. Also, most systems only work in conjunction with the speaker using a microphone. “Can everyone hear me – I don’t need a microphone?” is not what people want to hear. You might also like to look at the Better Hearing Australia website.
Lee Wilson makes a plea to organisers of festivals and markets for more inclusive thinking in his recent post on Linked In. He gives an overview of things to think about and that includes emergency procedures. Sometimes an accessible portaloo is installed, but no-one has thought about the grass or gravel leading up to it. Information should also be accessible, particularly to people who do not read English well, or have low vision. Auslan interpreters and audio describers make festivals and events enjoyable for people who are deaf or blind. There are several good resources on making events inclusive:
Accessible Events Checklist from the WA Government
Accessible Events Guide from Meetings and Events Australia
Event Accessibility Checklist from Australian Network on Disability (AND)
Vivid Sydney – example of a website with a section on the access and inclusion features of the event.
When academics organise a conference on health and wellbeing, the people being discussed are likely to be in the audience and on the speaking program. But how many academic conference organisers think about this? Not many it seems.
Sarah Gordon has written a very readable article about her experience as a conference speaker, attendee and user of the health system. Conferences with disability related content are generally considerate of the “nothing about us without us” approach. But when it comes to conferences on mental health, these delegates are given little if any consideration.
While the focus is on mental health in this paper, the comments can be applied more generally. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability is referenced throughout and this makes it a long read. Conferences are part of the right to life-long learning and education, and the right to give and receive information. The application of universal design principles are discussed as a way to create greater inclusion for conferences. The paper is titled, What makes a ‘good’ conference from a service user perspective? by Sarah Gordon and Kris Gledhill, in the International Journal of Mental Health and Capacity Law (2017).
One in six people experience hearing loss. It is one of the silent disabilities (no pun intended). New survey research by Ideas for Ears paints a clear picture of the problems people experience at meetings if they have just a minor degree of hearing loss. And most of the problems can be easily fixed because the majority of people with hearing loss can hear well enough if the situation is managed well. This includes using a microphone, having good acoustics, and sufficient lighting to lip read. Frustration, feeling excluded, stressed and embarrassed are some of the feelings expressed by respondents. Hearing augmentation was covered in the survey, and once again, not having the hearing loop switched on or not working was top of the list. The report makes for interesting reading for anyone organising and running meetings – any meeting – especially if the purpose is for participation and inclusion. While the research was done in the UK, there is no reason to assume it is any different in Australia (or elsewhere). An overview of the survey was published on the Ideas for Ears website. The Clearasound website has some great resources for understanding hearing augmentation systems. Better Hearing Australia also has resources and support services.
Designer Liz Jackson from New York, tells her story in a video talk of how she became known as the woman with the purple cane. She has a theory that when parents tell their children not to stare at someone who looks different they take this behaviour into adulthood. In a straightforward manner she laments how designs for people with disability are so often ugly. She critiques the seven principles of universal design for not including beauty in the list; focusing only on functionality. And that every design designs for exception because there will always be someone left out. This 15 minute talk is well worth the time. If you can’t access the video there is a full transcript on the site.
Editor’s note: Aesthetics are mentioned in the fuller length of the seven principles of universal design. This quote from Bill Stumpt and Don Chadwick, points this out: “The essence of universal design lies in its ability to create beauty and mediate extremes without destroying differences in places, experiences, and things”. However, it seems that if designers only ever look at the short list of principles, an eighth principle should be added – Thou shalt make it beautiful!
Jeremy the Dud is a short film where people with disability are the mainstream group, while people without disability are the outsiders. Flipping the concepts around spells out the social conditions they live with 24/7. Jeremy wears a label that says, “without speciality” so that everyone can see he is different. “The tag is there to disclose Jeremy’s status to strangers, to make those “with speciality” more comfortable around him. It is meant to help him avoid embarrassing or offensive situations, he says, but in reality it makes him the subject of uninformed assumptions, belittling comments and patronising “well-meaningness” that borders on the absurd.”
Council of Australian Governments has directed the Building Ministers, Forum (BMF) to undertake a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) for accessibility in all new private housing. The COAG Communique of 9 October 2017 states:
“The BMF, in consultation with Disability Ministers, will undertake a national RIA regarding accessible housing for private residences. The RIA will examine the [Livable Housing Australia] silver and gold performance levels as options for a minimum accessible standard; use a sensitivity approach; and be informed by appropriate case studies”.
Editor’s Comment: It is good to see LHA Gold Level being included because Silver Level only provides visitability, not liveability. This is only the beginning of a long process. The state and territory treasurers and disability ministers will be required to get together to discuss the issues. If all succeeds we should see basic access features for all new homes in the National Construction Code. However, at this stage it looks like publication in 2022 in spite of the National Disability Strategy. Jane Bringolf.
How to make your conference accessible – and why you should care! This Pulse article posted on Linked In by Nicholas Steenhout covers the basics. His personal experiences have made him actutely aware of how the little details count for so much. He covers websites, name badges, venue, registration desk, conference rooms, amphitheater, bathrooms, carpets, hallway, dining halls, presentation, cabaret style seating, interpreters, slide designs and font sizes, handouts, social events, and transportation. Good for a quick grab for the essentials – you never know who you might be missing out on and that means both speakers and delegates.
Can American Librarian Conferences have more attendees with disability than other conferences? Maybe not, but they are addressing the issues. The American Library Association has discovered several problems such as inability to present, attend, and situations leading to outright embarrassments. This has led to research and a comprehensive document with 81 recommendations that cover before, during and after the event. Here is the abstract to the paper with other links.
Abstract: This paper outlines the background and history of accessibility concerns and barriers facing attendees with disabilities at American Library Association Conferences throughout the United States, and discusses the recent work of the ALA Conference Accessibility Task Force charged with drafting recommendations for improvement of conference and virtual meeting accessibility. The author summarizes broad categories of accessibility covering the task force report of 81 specific recommendations, and several important appendices relating to overall accessibility guidelines, terminology, survey methodology, tip sheets for vendors and hotels, and master training document for staff, administration, presenters, and various conference volunteers.