Masters in multitasking!

Over the course of the last year, most of us needed to adapt to the “new normal” defined by working from home, online learning and meeting participation. As we enter 2021, remote working is still with us and it may be for much longer as businesses and organisations have discovered new ways of working practices.

So, here is the question. Have the virtual meetings improved inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing people? What can we learn from 2020? What was the experience of deaf and hard of hearing people in the remote meetings? How can we move forward in the “new normal”?

Remote conferencing platforms provide added value of seeing face of the speaker close enough for lipreaders and allow direct access to sound, similar to hard of hearing people using assistive listening devices in the in-person meetings. If you choose speaker view, you will know who is speaking without having to look around in the room( great!) and we no longer need to strategize where we can sit. Most people follow rule of hand rising and wait for their turn, another positive trend. Some platforms such as Zoom, Teams or Google Meet have integrated automated captioning.

It all sounds very good ,but as many have experienced, there are pitfalls with technology and connectivity; poor sound and video quality, video freezing, participants without video on when speaking and some people forget to mute microphones when not speaking. In addition trying to make sense of automatic captioning, when it is not accurate takes away our attention while we try to follow group discussion. Those instances add extra burden for people who are deaf or hard of hearing while participating in the virtual meetings and contribute to concentration fatigue.

Familiar Zoom fatigue has taken to another level with additional cognitive multitasking required for deaf and hard of hearing people ! Having hearing loss, we experience increased listening effort, which in turn results in a reduction in available processing capacity that might otherwise be used for other purposes, such as memory recall (Hornsby 2014). Honestly, we should be awarded Masters Degree in multitasking!

As technology has still some way to catch up and provide truly inclusive online environment for persons with disabilities, but meetings organisers can remedy some of the shortcomings and need to plan ahead. Aside from booking sign language interpreter or real time captioning service , fostering inclusive meeting behaviour is essential to lower cognitive overload. Here are some tips meetings organisers:

  • Let participants know if you have organised sign language interpretation or real time captioning – avoids uncertainty and saves yours and participants inquiry time
  • Provide materials before the meeting – it helps to familiarise with the topic
  • If you plan activities , have slides with visual instructions
  • Use chat room to summarise action points, clarifications – helps with memorising and staying on topic
  • In addition you can use chat room to provide instructions – easy to copy and paste
  • Allow time for answers – there is delay between speech and captioning, which affects reaction time
  • Remind speakers to have their video on- aids comprehension and allows for lipreading
  • Remind everyone to mute microphones – background noise is distracting
  • Plan for min 5- 10 min break halfway in 2 hours meetings -“time outto helps with relaxing and recovering energy levels.
  • Send copy of transcript and follow up actions from chat room to participants after the meeting – helps to remember what was said, deaf and hard of hearing people cannot take notes while actively participating in meetings

From my experience, following those tips helps making meeting inclusive for other participants, not just deaf or hard of hearing people. Just a small reminder…don’t assume anything and always encourage your meeting participants to let you know if they have specific accommodation requirements. For detailed and in depth information, check out Guidelines for supporting remote participation in meetings for all, free to download from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Main image credit: Maria Skoczynska

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