Providing accessibility accommodations that work for both the Deaf and Hearing Loss communities can be a challenge. This is clear to anyone with a hearing loss who requested captioning but was provided with a sign language interpreter instead. For most people with hearing difficulties, including me, a sign language interpreter provides no assistance.
But as I learned at an interesting panel discussion hosted by the Museum, Arts and Culture Access Consortium (MAC), a group whose mission is to promote access and inclusion at cultural institutions in the NY metro area, the reverse is also true. According to a Deaf panelist, captioning is not helpful for many members of the Deaf community, especially school aged children under the age of 15.
Communication Means Different Things To Different People
The panel discussion, entitled “Mindful Communication 2.0” was a follow up to a MAC sponsored event the prior year which discussed the language of disability, including its evolution from a medical model (i.e., hearing impaired) to person first language (i.e., a person with hearing loss) to identity first language (i.e., deaf). It is a complex subject and one that continues to evolve, especially for people with hearing loss.
When I write or speak about hearing loss, I typically avoid medical model terms like “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired” and emphasize person centered language like “people with hearing loss.” I find identity first language harder to use because the term deaf can easily be confused with Deaf (deaf with a capital D), which implies a cultural identification and the use of sign language that are not part of my life experience.
Accessibility is becoming increasingly important to cultural institutions, but there is still much confusion about the best way to provide true access, especially for the broader hearing loss community. Part of the problem is that communication means different things to different groups. For the Deaf, conversation is fully visual through signing or lipreading, while for people with hearing loss it is a combination of spoken language and visual cues, often in different degrees for each person.
Making Venues Accessible for People With Hearing Loss
The follow-up panel aimed to provide specific guidance to museum operators about how to improve accessibility efforts specifically for people who are blind, have hearing loss, or who are Deaf. It was an interesting discussion filled with good tips that are applicable for a variety of settings, even virtual ones.
The main take away for me was that while it is logical to expect a certain level of accommodation from any venue, we must take equal responsibility for the quality of our access experience. Effective communication is a two-way street.
Other tips from the panelists are below. Please share your ideas in the comments.
1. Do your research.
Consult a venue’s website well before visiting to see what accommodations are available and to determine what help you will require to enjoy your experience. If you are interested in a particular exhibit or event, make sure to mention that when contacting them. The more preparation you do, the more smoothly your visit will go.
2. Request accommodations well in advance.
The more time you give a place to prepare for your visit, the more likely it is to be successful. At smaller venues, you might be the first person to ask for C.A.R.T. or other accommodations. Expect to educate staff about your needs and what options are available to them. You may need to follow up several times to make sure they are getting things right.
3. Be as specific as possible in your requests.
Detail the type of technology you require including whether you use a t-coil or blue-tooth to connect your hearing aids to other devices. If a sign language interpreter will not help, state that. The less you leave up for debate, the more likely you are to have a successful experience.
4. Provide feedback to the venue.
Let staff know how your experience is going in real time, especially if adjustments are needed. At the end of your visit, thank everyone who provided assistance. Follow up with a sincere thank you note highlighting the positive aspects of your visit and suggesting any further improvements. Sharing your appreciation for a job well done shows staff that providing accessibility is highly valued.
5. Refine your process.
Ask the venue what you could have done to make things go more smoothly. Should you have contacted them sooner? In a different manner? With a more specific request? Their feedback will make your next outreach even more successful.
Readers, how do you prepare for visits to museums and other venues?