These suggestions are designed to help your workshops be more welcoming and inclusive. Please refer to them as needed to adapt activities throughout the program.
Hearing impairments affect people of all ages and range from mild to severe. Wearing hearing aids can help some, but not all, people who have a hearing loss. At their best, hearing aids do not "solve" the problems of hearing loss. Hearing aids make sounds louder but not necessarily clearer.
Most hearing loss interferes with a person's ability to understand speech, so people who are hard of hearing often also rely on lip reading (speech reading) to help them understand spoken language. A hard of hearing person may jokingly say "Let me put on my glasses so I can hear you."
People who consider themselves Deaf (with an upper-case 'D') regard Deafness as a culture with its own language — American Sign Language (ASL) — rather than as a disability. Most people who become deaf as adults do not learn sign language but rely on speech reading. ASL-fluent Deaf persons are likely to request the services of a professional interpreter for participation in adult religious education workshops.
Welcoming Requires Continual Attention
It is a credit to you that a person who is hard of hearing trusts you enough to come to your workshop. Many people who are hard of hearing avoid such situations because of the communication difficulties, embarrassment, frustration, and impatience that are often encountered.
Imagine this scenario: As you're leading the workshop, you and the participants are engrossed in easy back-and-forth communication about deep, personal topics. Conversation is intense; voices drop as people reveal private, never-before-spoken thoughts. Three people speak at once in a fluid, back-and-forth way, while two people at the end of the table have a conversation with each other about something personal.
Meanwhile, the person who is hard of hearing is trying to listen to you, separate the background voices from what you are saying, and feel confident enough to ask you to repeat something you have said to the whole group — all while having a meaningful religious education experience. For a person who is hard of hearing, the impulse is often to avoid being a bother — to withdraw, give up, pretend to hear what is going on, and perhaps not come to the next session.
As a leader, it's up to you to control the workshop situation. Making sure that only one person is talking at a time, that participants speak up, and so on makes for an environment that is good for everyone's learning.
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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.
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