Hearing Loss in the Workplace: How to Handle A Virtual Meeting

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What better way to celebrate National Deaf Awareness month than by speaking about hearing loss in the workplace. Holly Cohen and I were pleased to share our workshop Hearing Loss in the Workplace: Strategies for Success at a large financial institution. While many elements of managing hearing loss in the workplace have remained the same since we presented last year at Goldman Sachs — the importance of disclosing your hearing loss, workplace communication best practices and the need for self-advocacy — several things have changed due to the pandemic. This year’s workshop highlighted the adjustments all of us need to make to keep our workplaces inclusive for people with hearing loss in this new virtual world. 

Managing Hearing Loss during Virtual Meetings

Work has moved online, creating both new opportunities and new challenges for people with hearing loss in the workplace. In some ways video conference calls are easier than regular audio-only conference calls because you can see the person’s face. This provides speechreading cues like lip movements and facial expression to help augment the dialogue, but they bring their own challenges as well, especially when compared to face to face interactions. Mixed sound quality can make dialogue hard to follow, especially in large meetings where it is hard to tell who is speaking. Internet buffering can cause delays that create asynchronous lip movements, while background noise in the home can be distracting. As in all difficult listening situations, self-advocacy and technology solutions are key. 

Captioning Makes Video Conference Calls Easier

For virtual meetings, captioning is a big help, but in most cases, it requires some forward planning. For the do-it-yourself options, check with your manager to make sure they are allowed under your company’s confidentiality and privacy policies. 

On video calls, captions can be provided in several ways:

1. Communication Access Real-Time Translation or CART

The gold standard is CART or Communication access real-time translation, where a person types a real-time transcript of the call. The captions typically appear at the bottom of the screen, like on a television displaying closed captioning. People with hearing loss have the right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to request needed accommodations at work, including CART.

2. Automatic Speech Recognition Captions or ASR Captions on the Conferencing Platform

Even so, many of us may not feel comfortable demanding this expensive accommodation for every meeting. Instead, Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) or computer generated captions could be enough. Accuracy is improving rapidly and often, the synchronicity with live speech is better. Many video conferencing platforms now provide free auto-captions on their platforms, including Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Zoom offers auto-captions as well, but only for its Business and Enterprise plans, and using them can be tricky. Help encourage Zoom to provide free captions for people with hearing loss, by signing and sharing our petition

3. Outside Captioning Apps

If captioning is not available through your employer, you can generate your own captions through a variety of speech-to-text apps on your smartphone. My favorites are Google’s Live Transcribe for Android phones and Otter.ai for iPhones. Or try Innocaption‘s Deskview streaming portal that works with video calls. Innocaption is a captioned phone service for your smartphone that is free for people with hearing loss. Before using outside services, check with your manager so you do not violate company policy.

Use Speaker Mode

The main advantage of video conference calls is that you can see the speaker’s face, so be sure to set up the platform for maximum benefit. This means using Speaker mode when available, rather than Gallery mode. In speaker mode, the speaker’s image will be larger to aid with speechreading, and when another person speaks, their box will automatically enlarge. This can make it easier to understand who is saying what. In gallery mode, each person’s image appears in a small box of equal size. Depending on the number of participants, these images can be quite small.

Use Headphones to Enhance Sound Quality

Computer speakers are notoriously poor. Using noise-cancelling headphones rather than the computer speakers can enhance the quality of the sound and bring it closer to your ears, making it easier to understand speech. If your hearing aids or CIs have bluetooth, you may be able to connect them directly to the sound. 

Low-Tech Solutions Also Work

Like for an in-person meeting, see if you can get the agenda ahead of time and the primary speaker’s notes if they will share them. This will provide context for the discussion and make it easier to process difficult or unfamiliar words. After the meeting, ask to borrow a colleague’s notes to fill in any blanks you might have missed.

Set Communication Ground Rules

While best practice communication standards should be a part of every work meeting, they are easy to overlook when everyone is in the same room. Virtually, more structure is required. Request that participants use communication best practices, like speaking one at a time, or using the chat box to clarify points and ask questions. Perhaps these rules of thumb will carry over into live meetings when they return. 

The silver lining for people with hearing loss on video work calls is that everyone is struggling to follow the conversation. This may make organizers more willing to mandate communication best practices like one person speaking at a time and limiting side conversations. It may also make captioning a more standard part of meeting protocol for years to come. 

Readers, what are your tips for handling a virtual meeting with hearing loss?

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30 thoughts on “Hearing Loss in the Workplace: How to Handle A Virtual Meeting”

  1. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    I for one am still struggling with many aspects of video calls. I am using Innocaption and Otter at different times which is OK but still pose some disadvantages. I had to quit my teaching job (hopefully just for this year) because I simply couldn’t rely on the existing captioning. Very anxiety provoking.

    Streamer (https://us4.campaign-archive.com/?u=8a9f5465e54129ae4976493e6&id=f8c6de425a) looks like they are working on something excellent and I’m hopeful, but can’t know yet if it’s a good option.

    I am interested in your mention of hearing aids with bluetooth which may be able to connect directly to the sound. Any idea how to do this and with which type of headphone? A downside can be if others in my home are listening to the same session. Then the sound has to be more universal.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      You can connect to your computer via Bluetooth for a Zoom call like you would for streaming a movie. That will bring the sound directly to your hearing aids or headphones. I often do that with my Bose noise-cancelling headphones. Thanks for your question.

  2. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    I don’t know how to do that. Trying to figure it out. Thanks.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:
  3. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Thanks, Shari. The problem is that the bluetooth isn’t locating any devices. I’m trying to do this with my hearing aids and not a headphone. My aids are already connected to bluetooth but doesn’t seem to connect with the computer. I’ll ask my audiologist.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Good luck!

  4. I’m still using my noise-cancelling Bose Hearphones on a daily basis, and they are great for this application. In reply to Susan, many HA brands now offer Bluetooth streaming, ReSound being a key brand that does so. If she doesn’t know, she should ask her technician.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  5. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Thank you, ystuart. I do have bluetooth on my Widex but will speak further with my audiologist. Have you tried streaming with your aids or you just like the headphones better?

  6. My main complaint about sound on Zoom meetings and the like is that many people don’t have good audio pickup at their computer. Folks that wear earbuds, in which a mic is imbedded, sound much clearer than people who rely on a mic that is somewhere on the keyboard or video display. That often leads to echo, even in news broadcasters, I have noticed. Then there are folks who don’t position their computer camera/themselves so the rest of us can see their their mouth! And finally, some older computers have dicey audio systems and the mic quality is not good. It’s beneficial to consider all these things.

  7. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Yep. Sadly, I don’t believe all issues will be resolved which leave DHOH at a continuous disadvantage. Could cost us our livelihoods and many social connections.

  8. Yes, Susan, it works very well w/ my HAs, too. If you are using Bluetooth on your Widex, you can pair it to a phone or iPad/tablet, I believe, but perhaps not directly to a desktop or laptop (in my experience). Yes, talk to your audiologist–I know there is a solution! Good luck!

  9. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Ah, so you just answered my question: it cannot be connected to my mac desktop. My bluetooth is already connected to my phone. Headphones may be the only work-around (and the hearing aids have to come off). Thanks!

  10. Your suggestions are so great, for improved communication amongst many people on a conference call. During Zoom video conferences, the person running the group asks the participants to mute themselves, in order to avoid cross talk…or, the leader mutes everyone and they can only speak, if they raise their hand, in the `’participants`’ portion of the Zoom app. Very helpful. Your suggestions about highlighting the speaker’s video box (outlined in green) is a great idea, so that it’s easier to see his/her entire face.

    Thanks so much

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So glad they are helpful! Thanks for your comment.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      My understanding is that you must dial in on your phone to get the captions, BUT you also connect to the call via your computer to get the video. You must have both connections. The directions are here: https://innocaptionhelp.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360051924834-How-to-see-captions-on-a-desktop-or-laptop-computer-screen-using-DeskView

  11. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Shari is correct. Innocaption is first a phone app. Basically you are receiving the captioning on the phone and simply seeing the same captioning on the screen. Be sure to turn audio down/off on both the computer and the phone. The downside is that if someone is watching the Zoom with you, they won’t be able to hear it.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks Susan. My understanding is that you can still listen to the audio on one of the devices — either the phone or the computer. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  12. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Actually, there’s an echoing feedback, at least with what I’ve experienced. I’ve confirmed that with Innocaption support. They said the fix was to turn down all devices.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Interesting. Others I know have made it work, but perhaps they are less bothered by it. It is never easy unfortunately! Thank you for the information.

  13. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    It is odd. The feedback and screeching was something other participants were hearing so it wasn’t just the HOH user.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      That is unfortunate. To me, it is not a great option then. I prefer to have audio AND captions to supplement, but everyone is different, of course. It is good to have a variety of options. The best would be for Zoom to finally provide ASR captions on all its plans. Then we would not need these workarounds…

  14. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    I agree with you. Simultaneous audio and captioning is my preference. Frustrating that Zoom is the missing piece here. Streamer–link I provided above–may be promising. I sure hope something accurate and viable materializes so I can communicate better in general and be employed in particular!

  15. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    iceathic, thanks. I think putting a headphone over my aids will be uncomfortable and/or unnecessary if the headphone is doing it’s proper job. I guess I’d have to try.

  16. Hi. My Oticon OPN HAs are bluetooth, so I do connect to smartphone, headphones, etc. To connect to computer, I use my Connect clip device. Previously, I only used the device as a microphone (where other person ‘wears’ it & it streams to my HA), but I recently found that this device also can connect to computer via Bluetooth. It works very well, and as a bonus, I can switch between my connect clip & my headphones simply by turning my clip device off (computer will remember both settings), which makes things so simple to use. I use the connect clip during Zoom meetings, then later if I want to view a video, I just turn off the clip, and can wear my headphones. why I would want to do this is b/c I find too much ‘streaming’ right to my hearing aids is a bit exhausting on my ears and need a break :). Hope this is helpful.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Excellent. Thank you for sharing what works for you!

  17. Jerry Henderson – Pownal Maine – Thank you for coming to my space. This is where I post thoughts, opinions and commentary on a variety of subjects at irregular intervals. I try to do something weekly, but have not nailed down a rigid schedule, like every Wednesday, yet. If you would like email notifications of new posts, you can make that happen right on the site. Simply enter your email address to subscribe. Also, if you would like to comment I welcome that. Just do so in the space at the bottom of any selected post. Sharing thoughts, opinion and commentary is a peculiarly human characteristic. It must be exercised to be enjoyed. Jerry Henderson
    Jerry Henderson says:

    Shari, the virtual meeting is obviously becoming a standard modality for business and even pleasure. I have limited experience with Zoom but even so I have had problems understanding because of the echo effect that can be traced to the distance between the speakers mouth and the microphone. Most computer microphones are woefully inadequate for many applications. A small mic clipped to a collar or mounted on a stand can fix the problem. Obviously, it’s my hearing problem but in any common experience the success of that experience is a shared responsibility in my opinion.

    The bulk of this discussion seems to focus on what the listener can do to make the experience work. I’m suggesting that the speaker also has a responsibility to produce the best quality audio possible.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Great point! Thanks for weighing in.

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