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Presentations and Hearing Loss: Strategies for Inclusiveness

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, 1 in 5 Americans–48 million people–report some degree of hearing loss. At age 65, one out of three people has a hearing loss. Based on those numbers, the chances are quite good that the audience for any presentation you make will contain people with hearing loss.

If we fail to take into account the particular needs of people with hearing loss, we can inadvertently cause them to feel excluded from the presentation. Perhaps the most common cause of such feelings of exclusion is speakers who insist that they do not need a microphone. When a speaker waves away a proffered microphone–because she was once told that her voice projects well–she is sending a message to people with hearing loss that they must assert themselves to request an accommodation if they wish to participate fully in the presentation.

In short, yes, you probably do need to use a microphone.

Here are some other strategies for ensuring that people with hearing loss are not excluded from your presentation:

  • Understand how hearing aids work. When you speak quietly, a hearing aid will amplify the sound. When you speak loudly, a hearing aid will reduce the volume of the sound it emits. But it won’t perform either action instantaneously, so if the pitch of your voice varies dramatically or often, people using hearing aids may have difficulty hearing you.
  • If someone asks you to repeat yourself, change your wording.
  • Avoid setting your presentation to music. Your word are more difficulty to follow if they are accompanied by background music.
  • If comments or questions from the audience are not amplified, repeat them before responding.
  • Face the audience as much as possible.
  • If possible, have a colleague carry a second microphone into the audience for questions or comments. Be patient as it makes its way to the member of the audience.
  • Be a good ally. When you hear a speaker say “I don’t need a microphone,” speak up on behalf of the audience members with hearing loss. Suggest to the speaker that using the microphone is a good idea, if only to ensure that no one in the audience feels excluded.

Based on “What You’re Saying When You Say ‘I Don’t Need a Mic.'”