Online Meetings with Hearing Loss

The pandemic has changed many things. Masks seem to unmask hearing loss which proves once again how much those with hearing loss use lipreading, even if we don’t know it. Masks not only affect lipreading ability, it also muffles speech so it’s a double whammy. I use a lot of lipreading for my communication so my first habit when I hear someone is talking is to watch their mouth, now just a mask. Instead of seeing lip shapes, I’m watching masks suck in and out as they breathe while talking. That is strangely fascinating, which also kind of distracts me from hearing what I can.

Elephant bag face mask in 2020 | Elephant face, Mask, Funny elephant

Which is why I use speech-to-text apps, discussed in my last blog piece. (By the way, I was able to eavesdrop on another conversation last week at the dentist office about baby shower plans.) The dentists were impressed with the app and its abilities, gesturing for me to raise the phone when they had something to say.  The more people we show those apps to the more they  can help introduce others to communication access.

There are other handy tools we have learned to use during this time of social distancing too, Zoom and Google Meet.  Our staff meetings at work are held via Zoom but Zoom’s caption abilities suck. We have a CART person (stenographer) who has tried every which way she knows how to reduce the caption lag and isn’t able to. Not only that, sentences tend to be broken up into chopped up words and it’s hard to follow. Or all of a sudden we will see 3 lines and often it goes so fast we can’t read it all before it’s gone. We also popped out the transcript but there’s a time stamp at the beginning of each line every 5-10 seconds which interrupts the flow of reading AND there’ still quite a gap in getting the captions. My fix: request CART services and watch the captions from their website on another monitor or split the screen if on one monitor. We can also use our phone, or tablet, for watching captions too.

With hearing loss we have a few more obstacles than others do but there’s a way around those obstacles. At work when given the choice, we create our events on Google Meet. It has easy access to speech-to-text captioning for those who aren’t techie enough to figure out split screens. There’s a button on the menu to Turn On Captions. Meet uses Live Transcribe and we watch it as goes back to correct mistakes when it gets the gist of the sentence, pretty amazing. Speech-to-text can make some mistakes, as we discussed last time and most of the time but we usually end up laughing ourselves silly when that happens.

Many of us have taken what we learned at work and started using it for personal reasons. We have what we call Happy HoH Hour (hoh=hard of hearing). There’s nothing like hanging out with your HoHs and speech-to-text with video for making it happen. We’ve used it to connect with family. My kids and I have played Cards Against Humanity using Meet and All Bad Cards.  I’ve also used it to be able to video chat with my 9 year old ADD grandson who can’t stop moving and lacks the ability to hold the camera so I can see his lips while he talks. (His child voice is hard on my high frequency hearing loss, when he hits puberty it will get easier.) Meet works for both of us, he can wander around and I have captions.

You can use speech-to-text apps from your phone for online meetings. I prop up my phone on my laptop over the speaker and turn on an app for access to last minute, or short, online meetings. I recommend requesting CART in advance when you can but this works in a pinch. CART notes are more reliable.

Use the tools, stay connected. Hearing loss has a link to dementia. It’s not the hearing loss itself, it’s the social isolation that tends to go with hearing loss. Damn this pandemic for making it harder on us and limiting us in so many ways…but the online world belongs to us if we know the tools to use. If you are tech shy push yourself to get outside the box, ask a friend or family member for help. Once you do it a few times, it gets easier. 

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