At a recent public meeting I attended, one of the speakers politely asked if it was ok if they did not use the microphone, assuming that their voice would carry adequately to the back of the room. This was not the first time I have been in meetings when speakers have chosen to ignore the use of the audio system provided for their use. In many cases they do not bother to ask, they announce their decision or simply leave the microphone to one side without mention. If meeting organisers or building managers were asked if they could dismantle access ramps at the front of buildings there would quite rightly be an outcry from the community as a whole. All of us know people whose mobility makes a ramp a necessity or a real benefit in entering buildings in order to gain access to services. Fewer of us may know people whose hearing impairment leaves them dependent on assisted hearing devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. This is primarily because hearing aids or cochlear implants are a great deal less noticeable than the presence of a wheelchair. However according to the 2011 Census there are nearly 3 times as many people in the UK who have impaired hearing as are dependent on wheelchairs for access. That is 2.2M people! It is estimated that for everyone who declared a hearing impairment on the census return, that 3 others chose not to do so. In part because loss of hearing is often gradual and many people with hearing loss do not want the embarrassment of having a hearing aid fitted.
The sound systems fitted in most public buildings should also include a hearing loop. There should be a sign at the entrance to the room or near the front of the building. However many buildings have loop systems that were fitted before signs were widely used. If there is no loop system fitted all of us can play our part, recognising that our own hearing will degrade over time and even if we never benefit, others will certainly do so. We also need to encourage people we know whose hearing is impaired to consider having a test. Sadly many people with hearing aids or cochlear implants do not know how to adjust them to benefit from hearing loops. This is because some audiologists do not appreciate the benefits of such advice or because they are aware that the use and effectiveness of loop systems is mixed. It is vital that all of us play an active role in changing this. We should ensure that buildings we use have loop systems properly designed, fitted and regularly tested and of course wherever sound equipment is in use we must speak up when presenters appear reluctant to use microphones. It is vital that all of us who speak in public from time to time learn how to use the equipment which will allow all in attendance to hear in the most effective manner.