Hearing Loops – fixed or portable?

A woman with dark hair wearing a light blue shirt holds her right hand up to cup her ear to indicate she is trying to hear somethingMany 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. 

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Festivals and markets for everyone

Delegates sitting at tables waiting for the 2014 UD conference to start. Sydney Town Hall (Lower)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.  

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Conference attendance from a user perspective

picture of a large audience watching a presentation.When academics organise a conference on health and wellbeing of people, some of the people being discussed are likely to be in attendance and potentially 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 that have content relating to disability are generally considerate of the “nothing about us without us” approach. But when it comes to conferences on mental health, it seems the users 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. The point is made that 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 means 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).

Editor’s note: This is one of the few academic papers available as a Word document with free access. 

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Out of the loop in meetings

A large room with a power point screen at the front and people sitting at tables cabaret styleOne 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.   

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Destinations for All: Get ready

The photo was taken in the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. A woman in a red dress stands looking at plants and behind her is a man in a hat sitting in a wheelchair and moving along the path between the plants. The glass windows can be seen above.Brussels will be hosting the 2nd World Summit on Accessible Tourism next year. It will present the innovations and best practices for the development of the accessible tourism chain. Abstract submissions open November 2017 and close end of March 2018. The date of the summit is 1-2 October 2018.

You can read more about the first summit held in Montreal in 2014 where 360 participants from 31 countries shared their expertise and experiences. At the end of the summit, they adopted the declaration “A world for all”. Available in 10 languages, the declaration includes 40 concrete measures to implement the recommendations of the UNWTO for inclusive tourism. The declaration is a genuine action plan at the local, national and international levels, promoting the accessibility of tourist infrastructure, buildings and services.  Proceedings from the first summit are also available and worth a look.  

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It’s Everybody’s House

Syney Opera House taken from a ship at sunset - the House glows yellow and orange“The Sydney Opera House is the People’s House” says the CEO Louise Herron. That’s why they have a commitment to inclusion and accessibility of both the building and performances. Further building upgrades are scheduled which will include enhanced physical access for audiences and performers. “Accessible performances” as they are listed on the website, include Auslan interpreting, captioning, and audio description.

Children are also well catered for with special educational programs that allow them to appreciate some of what goes on. For example, it is great for a blind child to talk to a ballerina and touch her tutu. There are also autism-friendly performances for families. Free Sing & Play sessions are offered in the Drama Theatre Foyer either before or after specified performances. It includes a range of fun play activities. The musical themes from the performances are facilitated by a Sing & Play music therapist.

For visitors wanting to know more about the building there are regular tours. Accessible tours cater for wheelchair users, people who are blind or have low vision, and people who are deaf or hard or hearing.

Economic inclusion has also been considered. Tickets for $5 are available for some performances for people who hold a Commonwealth Health Care Card.

You can download the Theatre Access Guide for more information about how to get around the building with the minimum of fuss. And the quick reference guide to the theatres, building tours, and availability of the shuttle bus.

If you type “Access” into the search function, this will take you to the relevant tabs and menus. Much thought has gone into accessibility and inclusion in all aspects of the House. They have set a great example for other leading organisations for the arts and other cultural experiences. This is also an example of how a heritage building, designed with no thought for people with disability, can be made fit for purpose.

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A universally designed conference: are we there yet?

A view of the vestibule of the Sydney Town Hall showing arched doorways and upper storey windows. The colours are classical heritage colours, mustard yellow, pale green and dark red.The 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference showcased the concept of inclusion across several design disciplines and was well received for this aspect. Less well received were aspects of the venue. Indeed some feedback indicated that there was disappointment that the conference itself was not universally designed. So to answer the question, “are we there yet?” the answer is no, not yet. But we are on the way.

I wish that all conference venues were perfectly universally designed. Brand new buildings might meet this criteria – at least they have to comply with access standards. Established buildings particularly heritage buildings are another matter even when upgrades are due. 

So why did we choose a heritage building, the Sydney Town Hall? Sponsorship is an important factor in organising a conference. It not only provides financial support, it also provides commendation. Having the sponsorship of City of Sydney was important for both reasons, and the way the City provides sponsorship for community events is to provide a venue at a significantly reduced cost. 

While some building accessibility features were not optimal, they were at least present and compliant to standards. They also showcased how heritage and access can work together, but compromises were clearly obvious. For example, the toilet signs were almost impossible to see in the dark corridors as they were brown figures on a small sign – a heritage requirement. But this was overcome by supplementing the signage with moveable large signs on stands at waist height. However, the lighting had not been addressed as this is where universal design meets both heritage and “green” agendas! More to be done here.

Picture shows Siam Imm Goh presenting with the live captioning screen behind her
Keynote by Siam Imm Goh

And then there is the actual “machinery” of the conference. Conference staging companies and audio-visual technicians are yet to understand accessibility let alone universal design. The stage ramps normally provided are too steep, and a hand rail for the steps is unheard of. We were at least able to source a compliant ramp and this did not go unnoticed. Few audio-visual technicians have worked with live captioning and have to learn as they go. But at least a few more people would have gone away from this conference with an example of how it should be done. This seems to be the story of universal design – education by example – frustratingly it seems, one person at a time. So, we are definitely not there yet, hence the need for Centre for Universal Design Australia!

Jane Bringolf, Conference Committee Chair 

The top picture is part of the vestibule in the Town Hall showing the intricacies of the design. The lower picture shows keynote speaker Siam Imm Goh with the large captioning screen behind and the presentations screens to both sides.

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Inclusive event and meeting guides

front cover of Accessible Events guide. purple with white writingFully accessible venues can still be difficult to find. Getting in the door and having an accessible toilet is only the start. Venue owners and managers, caterers and equipment suppliers are yet to get up to speed with what is required. Indeed, while trying to think of everything to make the 2014 Universal Design Conference inclusive, we found the suppliers of the staging equipment did not have a handrail for the steps and the wheelchair ramp was too steep to climb without help. The one-size fits all lectern is also a problem. Rarely is there a lectern that a seated person or person of short stature can use.

Meetings and Events Australia have a comprehensive handbook on accessible events which was written in consultation with the Human Rights Commission in 2012. The Guide also has a checklist at the end. 

Free to access guides include the Event Accessibility Checklist from Australian Network on Disability.  Also the West Australian Government checklist is available.

Factors that many organisers might not think about are, a drinking bowl for an assistance dog, the way the event or meeting is promoted, and ensuring there is lighting on the face of speakers for lip readers.

Editor’s Note: In my experience, some event operators aren’t aware that they have to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

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Is your professional association inclusive?

logo of American Sociological Society - blue on white backgroundThe American Sociological Association has developed a comprehensive policy to ensure the highest level of inclusion for all members. They have 15 recommendations that could be a model for others to follow.

While the focus is on conferences, seminars and other events they hold, whether in a conference venue or by webcast, the list also includes, how to file a disability complaint regarding the association, processes for membership renewal to the association, orientation to conference venue or meeting site, and web content accessibility rules.

The article is in the Association’s publication, Footnotes, and is titledImplementing Professional Curb Cuts: Recommendations of the Status Committee on Persons with Disabilities

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