”Oh, I don’t need a microphone, I’ll speak louder,” is the bane of those with hearing loss attending lectures, conferences, or simply being out with friends in a louder setting. Dr. Jessie Ramey does a great job advocating for use of hearing assistive technology in higher education. This article takes Dr. Ramey’s advice further and discusses how to ask for accommodations.
Many people with hearing loss use remote microphones or other assistive technology. When asking a speaker to use such technology, a common and frustrating response is “I'm ok without a microphone, I can speak louder.” When speakers don’t use assistive equipment, it is much more difficult to hear. This difficulty is called cognitive load. And, when that person is your boss, the power differential increases stress. And stress equals cognitive load (see my Hacking Hearing talk, I relate my own experiences in dealing with cognitive load in the professional setting).
Steering abnormally high levels of brain power solely towards hearing makes it difficult for the brain to do one of the most important functions it’s designed to do: Process information and to effectively connect and communicate with the person to whom you’re talking.
So, how do you get people implement necessary accommodations? Better yet, how can we change a potentially negative and stressful encounter into a positive one? Done well, asking for an accommodation and deftly navigating a complex encounter can highlight your communication skills in a public setting. These soft skills are seldom taught or researched, but are hugely important in today’s competitive professional environment. Hard of hearing people who have been successful invariably have great soft skills.
Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with the "I'm ok without a microphone, I can speak louder” conundrum.
- Take a breather and put yourself in their shoes. It is unlikely that your civil rights are being maliciously violated or are itching to be the next viral Twitter social injustice moment. The person of interest may be in a hurry, and their own ignorance prevents their empathizing with your own circumstances.
- Know exactly what you need, why you need it, and explain it in terms that they can understand. Be relatable.
- Read the person and the room. Is it a large, busy setting where the efficiency of being straightforward is the best approach? Or is it an intimate setting where personal relationships may benefit from the social lubrication that humor and dry wit can provide?
- Be self effacing and generate empathy. No one likes being told what to do, and Most people are more than willing to help—they just need to be explicitly told how and why to follow accommodations.
- Be firm in the expectation for accommodations. This doesn’t mean to have an insistent edge to your voice, but rather, mentally rehearse your requests ahead of time and be prepared with pre-formulated responses to resistance with your requests. Remind the person that others have gone before you (or if not, point out a similar field).
- Remember that enacting behavioral change requires reinforcement. Case in point is yours truly when giving talks to hard of hearing groups. As an energetic speaker, it has taken practice to remain tethered to one position for best coverage of microphone and live captioning services. If anyone should remember accommodations, it should be me!
Later—need to separate yourself from prior feelings that may elicit PTSD