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With more and more people working from home or otherwise remotely, most meetings are taking place via Zoom or other tele-conferencing platforms. While there are obvious disadvantages to using the internet for every interaction with your coworkers and bosses, there are some silver linings for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Tele-conferencing platforms incorporate options for closed captioning, automatic transcription, and recording of the calls so you can review moments you might have missed. Sometimes this isn’t as obvious or as simple as we would like, but where there is a will, there is a way.
While Google Hangouts (professional version) and Microsoft Teams offer automatic closed captioning options within the platform, Zoom does not yet offer this widely. There is a closed captioning option in Zoom, but it requires human input. If your workplace is able to hire a third-party closed captioner, this can be a good option.
A beta version of Zoom has an automatic captioning option using artificial intelligence, in partnership with OtterAi, but this is currently in testing only at a few universities and it’s not clear when it will be available to the general public. It seems that the bandwidth required is more than the service can currently offer, though future infrastructure improvements will likely make it more widely available.
If you have a second device available (such as your smartphone) you can run a CC app on that device which will pick up the audio from your primary device. This currently seems like a simpler option than enabling captions on some other platforms.
Tips for Your Normal-Hearing Coworkers
A home office presentation that is “good enough” for those with normal hearing may cause big trouble for those with hearing impairment. Here are a few tips you may wish to offer to coworkers and/or bosses so you can be appropriately accommodated in the virtual workplace:
- Everyone should make sure they have a good internet connection and good video quality. Laggy or jagged video quality can be caused by cheap or outdated cameras as well as a slow or overstressed internet connection. Simply making sure that others in the household can stay offline for the duration of the meeting can make a big difference.
- Keep your camera steady. Set your device on a firm desktop or tabletop and pay attention to whether your image is shaking around for any reason.
- Lighting is important. While there are obvious problems with underlighting, overlighting can also cause faces to be inscrutable, and shadows can interfere with lipreading. Your office may wish to invest in portable lights that can clip onto the edge of a laptop screen and ensure that faces are appropriately bright and lit from the proper angle.
- Make sure you’re close enough to the camera that your lips can be read.
- Use a clean, simple background with no distracting images.
- Smaller groups are easier. If smaller groups are not an option, moderation is important such that crosstalk and interruptions are kept to an absolute minimum.
- Keep the following additional guidelines in mind for keeping group conversations smooth so the hearing impaired can participate:
- Raise your hand (or your virtual hand on Zoom’s platform) when you wish to speak. While the Zoom hand raising option does not queue raised hands in any way that could be considered equitable, the TOHRU (Trace Online Hand Raising Utility) has a number of options to select when raising your hand, and organizes raised hands in an orderly fashion.
- Designate a meeting organizer who determines the possession of the conch.
- If the meeting organizer is not automatically muting the screens of those who are not actively speaking, do so yourself. Even accidental noises like squeaking chairs or a door closing will draw attention to your screen at the expense of the current speaker.
- Make use of the text feature for questions that might otherwise be interruptions.
Telecoils / Bluetooth
It’s especially useful to have hearing aids with some option for gaining direct access to the audio from a device, rather than using the device’s speakers and then recapturing that sound with hearing aids’ microphones. Whether it’s telecoils or Bluetooth, pairing your hearing aids to the audio from your device will allow for a much cleaner presentation of sound.
Hearing Wellness Solutions
If your hearing aids are not compatible with Bluetooth, this may be a good time to consider an upgrade! And if you’re not wearing hearing aids yet, make an appointment for a hearing test with us today and learn more about options that are right for you. We look forward to hearing from you!