Categories
Accessibility CART (live captioning) Communication Access Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Public Advocacy Speech to Text Captions

Quality Captions

With the Global Alliance of Speech to Text Quality Caption Task Force

Our guests today are:

  • Sebrina Crosby, CRC. Sebrina is a Realtime CART Captioner and owner of Access Captioning, LLC
  • Kimberly Shea, NCSP, CRC. Kimberley is a realtime broadcast/CART captioner and she is the President of Breaking Barriers Captioning Services, LLC.

Serbina and Kimberly volunteer with Global Alliance Speech to Text with the Quality Caption Task Force

Captions are our access to television. Without captions, we have to make up our own stories with what we see. We did a podcast with Liza Sylvestre early this year, an artist who uses her hearing loss in her art. Her project “Captioned” is a good example of what we do without captions. Captions are our language. Quality captions matter. Don’t make us guess, especially when the information is important.  

Kimberly and Serbrina are especially busy lately with captioning so we are appreciative of the time they spent with us. In our current podcast, they talk to us about quality captions and their upcoming project which will improve captions…and they need our help.

Captions Matter

Chelle: This is how bad  my hearing is – I’ll be watching a movie and reading the captions as usual. My husband will come in and ask me why I’m watching a movie in a foreign language. I had no idea they were speaking a foreign language. To me, all dialog on the TV comes across garbled. I cannot watch TV without captions.

Captions are our access to communication.

My husband likes to watch the news. I read the captions. When the news goes live on certain channels, there’s no captions which completely leaves me out. I get up and leave the room, it’s not inclusive. Sometimes, the captions are so far behind during certain live shows, I can’t  get the full transcript before commercials come up and I lose the last little bit. This is when I use my wifi based assistive listening system from my good friends at Listen Tech. When the show is live, they generally face the camera so I can use lipreading too. The captions become backup.

Captions Sometimes Lag Far Behind

During our October Talk About It Tuesday monthly chat, someone else brought up television captions and the lag. This can be a technology issue, Julia explained. Sometimes it’s captioning going through different kinds of technology before it’s presented on the TV. It can be the cable box. There’s no real criteria for consistency between TV stations and our televisions. For no captions, someone at the TV station probably forgot to flip a switch. 

Saturday Night Live captions lag far behind. It’s frustrating.

We can make a difference

Serbrina tells us during the podcast, we can make a difference in our own cities by staying on top of our local TV stations. There are pockets of stations in the USA who do a good job with captions, even though they aren’t in the top 25. (The top 25 have to have live captioners.) It’s because the Hard of Hearing and Deaf community members are actively contacting the stations about caption issues. 

Last weekend, I had a friend approach me about a recent Utah governor’s address on TV not being captioned. She and her husband have started to use captions more often.  She said they had an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter but there were no captions. Why, she wanted to know. The Deaf community have been more firm with their communication needs than we have. We can learn from them.

Follow Up

We need to follow up with the TV stations who are not providing captions. Each station has a caption assistance page (it’s the law to have captions). I keep my most watched local TV station’s “caption assistance” pages on my phone. We can call them, email them or fill out their contact page. I’ve let stations know what the problem is and I’ve also complimented another station on providing great captions. When it’s a glaring problem, I get on my local HLAA email list and tell others to tune in and write to the TV station too. I told her next time she sees something like that, let me know and I’ll spread the word. Sebrina is right, the more of us who do this, the better captioning we get. 

Hearing Parnters Can Help

Julia: Quality captions help everyone. If you’re a hearing partner, odds are the captions are on all the time. I know at our house they are. My guess is that you are using the captions more than you realize. I do. When they are poor quality, whether the program is live or pre-recorded, it’s distracting and it drives me nuts!

But, as a hearing partner you just have to put up with it, right? Wrong.

I encourage everyone (HoHs, hearing partners, ANYONE who uses TV captioning) at home, in a bar or restaurant, at work…ANYONE who may want to use or needs to use captions at a future date, (come on now hearing loss can happen to anyone) to get involved. When local stations hear from their local viewers they take note. 

During a local news broadcast you might even see an advertisement about a local store who is credited for sponsoring the closed captions. Drop by that local store and let them know captions matter and let them know if it’s quality captions that they are sponsoring. 

Change happens when we speak up together. 

Call to Action!

Kimberly Shea: “The first place we need to start is making a record. We will gather video data and samples from all over the country. The Task Force will evaluate each video against a metric system that is designed for captioning. This will address the quality, and the usability of captions for consumers. This has never been done before.”

Global Alliance will have a call to action soon and you will see Hearing Loss LIVE! sharing it. 

The more of us with hearing loss helping, the better captioning will get. 

Join Global Alliance Speech to Text. Together we make a difference.

Did you like this blog? Check out the podcast we did with Jen Schuck of Global Alliance earlier this past spring.   

Join our twice a month newsletter by registering on our events page. (Scroll down a bit.)

Help us spread the word! Please share with us on social media. We are on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit. Share our blogs, podcasts with friends and family so they too understand hearing loss better. (Our podcasts are available on  many podcast platforms. Search Hearing Loss Live.)

We have been bootstrapping it, starting Hearing Loss LIVE! from scratch. We keep many of our services free to those in need. Our paid services are building and we will be offering more classes soon. Until we are completely on our feet, you can support us at Buy Me a Coffee and by joining Patreon

Categories
Accessibility Advocacy Captioning CART (live captioning) Communication Access Connections Education Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Self Advocacy

Happy Anniversary!

Chelle: This is our 40th podcast! It’s been fun making them and seeing where they go. We’ve highlighted hearing loss and its related issues and strategies; spotlighted community members for inspiration, and will continue to do so.

I love the connections we’ve made. 

This Past Year

  • We hosted a free, monthly event called Talk About It Tuesday (TAIT) with human generated captions (CART) so everyone can participate.
  • We’ve met some good people through TAIT and got to meet one attendee in person thanks to our travels to and from the SayWhatClub convention.
  • We offered a free workshop before the holidays to help people Conquer Their Next Family Gathering.
  • We’ve also had free workshops on Family and Self Advocacy for May’s Better Hearing and Speech Month.
  • We tested sensitivity training for a business to clear up misconceptions about the Hard of Hearing. It was well received.
  • We’ve given free presentations for hearing loss support groups on how to request CART and self advocacy.
  • All our podcasts are free and accessible with captions, that’s a lot of work thanks to Julia. She makes sure all we do is accessible with captions. We want to lead the way with captions. 

Lipreading Concepts Class

We started the Lipreading Concepts classes this year (new classes starting next week) which has already helped several people be more proactive with their communication. This is the only thing we charge for so far. It is a minimal charge, $50 for 8 one-hour classes. Soon we’ll have a Patreon channel going with extras from our podcasts.

Next Year

Over the next year, I look forward to narrowing our focus down to self advocacy at a grassroots level. Teaching people how to communicate, how to get the accommodations they need. Reaching the Hard of Hearing as a whole to let them know there are a lot of accommodations available, and more of us need to request them so our communication needs are better known. 

The Funding Question

This question popped up more than a few times this last year, why are we an LLC instead of a nonprofit? Because we want to do it our way. We didn’t want a board telling us what to do. We also didn’t want to be boxed in by bylaws so we went the LLC way. Even in nonprofits there are membership fees, convention fees, fundraisers. We could have gone the nonprofit route, we have years of experience with nonprofits between us. We could have paid ourselves that way too. Being an LLC is going against the current grain but it isn’t all that different. 

We’ve bootstrapped the whole way through. We recently started some crowdfunding and some of you have already helped. Thank you! We want to go another year; then, another sharing what we have learned on our journeys so you don’t have to wait as long as we did to be more successful with hearing loss.

Happy Birthday to Us!

Michele: Can you believe it’s been a year?! Yes and no. Time is a great contradiction, passing slowly and at top speed all at once.

This past year has confirmed to us how hungry Hard of Hearing (HoH) people are for information that will help them live fully with hearing loss. We’ve helped people learn to be better self advocates and to find their confidence to speak up for themselves and their needs.

More work needed for HoH Accommodations

Speaking of needs, many have no idea what they need or what is available to them in the way of accommodation. Helping people with hearing loss define their needs has been a big part of what Chelle, Julia and I have focused on since last September.

At its heart, hearing loss is a communication barrier. Communication access, and the accommodations that provide it effectively, has been another big focus of ours. If the HoH want businesses and organizations that serve us to include us, the best way to educate them is to advocate and ask for what we need. I’ve been working hard on that in my own community in hospital and medical settings. I’ll be giving presentations on hospital communication access later this year.

Equal Access to CART

CART has been a big focus of Hearing Loss LIVE!, and that’s no surprise, as Julia is a captioner. With a profound hearing loss, and being a lifelong lipreader, CART is the most effective communication access accommodation for me and many others. We are working to help start a movement that will grow the CART industry—there is a shortage of CART providers—and to spread awareness among the HoH community, those who organize live events, and businesses. Many have no clue about how to request it or how to go about providing it for those of us who do not communicate via sign language. Quality, on-site, speech-to-text services should be available all across the country, not just in larger cities. We will continue to focus there, because over 95% of people with hearing loss use spoken language to communicate. Communication access keeps us connected! IT IS EVERYTHING!

“If all my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would soon regain all the rest” ― Daniel Webster

We are Going to Dig In

Julia: I am hoping this is one of many anniversaries to come. There is still so much work ahead of us and I’m ready to dig in and get more folks in the KNOW!

Whether you’re new to hearing loss or an old pro—or maybe you are still in denial—there is something here for you, your family, your friends and your place of business. In fact, I think everyone should get in the KNOW! Before they need to know. I cannot stress enough how this has improved everything about my journey as a hearing partner.

Our goal will always be to give back to our HoH community and their hearing partners as much as possible but we need your help.

We have many ways you can help us:

Patreon: Get a look at some of our unseen videos. There are hours and hours of hilarious outtakes, serious discussion about hearing loss, thoughts about podcasting and more. Monthly content starts at $3 a month. That’s only $36 dollars a year.

Buy me a Coffee: Buy one or all of us a coffee! Like a specific blog or podcast? Want us to take on a subject? Let us know. 

Join our Lipreading Concept Class: It’s only $50 dollars for eight weeks! This class is taught by Chelle, Michele and Julia. All three have years of experience with what lipreading is and what it is not. We believe the best way to take this class is online/in person, because there is always time to talk about current real life experiences, strategies and hearing loss. This class is built for hearing friends and family, too. Encourage them to get in the KNOW! about how lipreading and communication go hand in hand. Space is still available in all four of our classes starting September 7th. 

Lipreading Concepts Class in Video

We also have a recorded version of our Lipreading Concepts class.This is for those who aren’t quite ready for group settings. Also, this is a great gift to share with a hearing friend or family member to help them learn more about hearing loss and lipreading. 

Subscribe to our E-news: Our E Newsletter comes out twice a month. It’s chock-full of information and fun facts. It contains Zoom links for our events like Talk about it Tuesday. We share our newsletter list with no one.

Share a testimonial with us: Let us KNOW what Hearing Loss LIVE! means to you. Subscribe to all our content. And above all else: Share, Share Share. Share with your friends, your family, your support groups, your doctors, your coworkers and your employer. 

Let’s get everyone in the KNOW!

If you enjoy our content and find it helpful, please consider donating so that we can reach more people with hearing loss to help them help themselves.

Podcast Link

Watch our companion podcast on YouTube channel. Our podcasts available in audio format on BuzzSprout with a transcript. You can also find us on Spotify, iHeartRadio and other platforms.

Check out our first 3 podcasts & blogs:

  1. Introducing Hearing Loss LIVE!
  2. Finding Your Tribe
  3. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Categories
College Disability Resource Center Communication Access Education Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Self Advocacy Vocational Rehabilitation Services

College Disability Services

Fall is upon us and it is back to school we go. Many students new to the college experience may or may not know what is available to them with respect to their hearing loss and equal access accommodations. Every state has different rules and regulations that govern their state colleges. And private colleges are regulated differently than state regulated colleges. This is your first opportunity to learn about how to request services that will allow you to have the same college experience as those around you. If a notetaker worked for you in High School with 30 students, will it work in a lecture hall built for 100? Make sure you work closely with your college advisor who can get you connected with your College Disability Services. College is the time to learn how to be proactive in your hearing loss truth. 

How Are Accommodation Requests Handled?

Julia: College is scary right? Whether you are just out of high school or returning as an adult. Maybe you had an IEP or 504 Plan through High School to help with accommodations. Maybe your hearing loss is new and you are returning to obtain a degree. 

I can share my experience as a captioner. Being very clear; every state and every college has different disability service departments and regulations for those departments are different in each state. I have only had a short experience with private colleges, a very positive experience I will say. Some of my contracts I work directly with the disability resource centers (DRC), which is one of many names and acronyms used by colleges. Some of my contracts I work with through a third party, a liaison for the college resource center supplying interpreting and CART services. 

Most colleges have many different options with regards to hearing loss accommodations. In fact, I think it’s easier to get the correct accommodations in a college setting than it can be in an employment setting. I have captioned for students who use ASL for some classes but need captioning for others. Or they need both ASL and captions for each class. I worked with students who I captioned for but they also needed a notetaker. I have had a student who preferred a Typewell writer over a verbatim CART/Captioner (like me) and I’ve had a student who preferred a verbatim captioner over a Typewell writer. Some students get by just fine being in the front row or with a FM system or Loop in most of their classes, but need CART when English is a second language for the instructor.  

Explore Accommodations

Look at college as the sounding board for you to get to know your hearing loss truth. This is the time to use as many accommodations as possible. Learn how to work with that one instructor who is not happy to accommodate you (yes this still happens). Educate your peers on hearing loss. This is knowledge to take with you into the workforce. Whatever degree you seek, when you’re proactive with your hearing loss, you empower yourself and educate others.

Michele: University of Minnesota’s Disability Resource Center has its own Interpreting and Captioning Unit (ICU) that fills all University-related requests. I have requested CART for university lectures I’ve attended and it is arranged through the ICU.

I also participated in a Sensory Loss Symposium at the Weisman Art Museum, organized by a U of MN artist in residence and the university’s CATSS | Center for Applied & Translational Sensory Science. Accessibility for the talk back afterwards was arranged by the ICU. I’m not sure how many colleges have their own ICU, but all should, in my opinion. 

Resources for More Information

For better understanding of Higher Education and the ADA, the ADA National Network has provided An ADA Knowledge Translation Center Research Brief. It was developed by the Department of Disability and Human Development of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the ADA Knowledge Translation Center. Estimates show that 19% of undergraduate students and 12% of graduate students have disabilities. Transitioning from high school to college can be a barrier for students with disabilities, as the responsibility to seek out services and accommodations shifts onto students themselves at the college/university level. It can be a challenge for students to connect with the appropriate campus resources, especially for those who are new to self advocacy. I found this podcast that discusses a lot of the issues in transitioning to the college experience:

Hear Me Out | Let’s Support Deaf Students Transition to College with Annie Tulkin from Accessible College 

Be Persistent

In my peer support volunteer experience, I have encountered young people attending college who have no idea what accommodations are available to them. I always tell them about CART and send them my search results for information and resources in their area and for their college/university. I also encourage them to be persistent, as sometimes they are offered an accommodation that isn’t a good fit for them, and being a new experience, they may not know they can push for a more effective accommodation.

In my area there are no local CART providers, so the colleges and universities who use CART for the Hard of Hearing do it remotely. Remote CART is a great service in the right situation, but the students I’ve talked to complain that they can’t fully participate due to inadequate microphone set up for class discussion. You can’t participate and respond to information you have no access to, and that’s a problem that can only be solved by a broader availability of CART providers for onsite options in smaller cities and towns across the country.

Using Vocational Rehabilitation and Disability Resource Center Services

Chelle: If you are going to college, I recommend that you check in with your state vocational rehabilitation (VR) program to see if you qualify for services. Using the Disability Resource Center (DRC) and Voc Rehab is a great combination helping you to be more successful at school. Be sure your counselors are Hard of Hearing knowledgeable. This makes a huge difference. If they aren’t, ask for someone else. 

Go into any appointment, both VR and the DRC, prepared with clear documentation from a doctor on your hearing loss, and any other disability. You don’t have to pick one disability, all needs should all be covered. It’s helpful if your doctor can write down specific accommodations as well. 

While the DRC can help with certain accommodations and setups, VR services may be able to help you with other things (this varies in each state along with qualification):

  • Books
  • Tuition
  • Technology such as assistive listening, automatic speech recognition programs, hearing aids and more.  
Know Your Options

Sometimes the DRC will only ask you what you need. They may have their hands tied with giving recommendations. In this case, you need to be as knowledgeable as you can about accommodations. Watch our companion podcast (link below) to learn about more options for hearing loss in a classroom setting. 

Sometimes, you might be denied at either VR or the DRC. Get the denial in writing and appeal it. Don’t give up and don’t get mad, you don’t want to alienate them. Use your polite, but firm, ‘mom’ voice. (Sometimes we advocate for others better than we do ourselves. We deserve equal access too.) Take the next step up. Ask for a supervisor and/or request another counselor. 

When I took college classes in the 90’s, I was upfront about my hearing loss with each teacher. I went to the first class early and explained my hearing loss, what I could and couldn’t do. This helped tremendously. See if you can’t make an appointment with your teachers before classes start to get a feel for them. If you can, get in touch with other students who have a hearing loss to get the lay of the land too.

In Conclusion…

Feel free to contact us anytime through our website to ask us questions about accommodations or taking that next step. We are happy to help. You can also join us live at our Talk About It Tuesday, the first Tuesday of every month at 6:00 PM MST. This is an open discussion event, free with CART/live captioning. (Our next one is Sept 6th, register here.) 

Watch our podcast for more information about college disability services.

If you like this post, check out our podcast on Parenting Kids with Hearing Loss for IEP ideas. Also take a look at Defining the Hard of Hearing. Occasionally our needs are mixed in with those of the Deaf community. Another good one to look at would be Self Advocacy.

If you enjoy our content and find it helpful, please consider donating so that we can reach more people with hearing loss to help them help themselves.

Categories
Accessibility Advocacy ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) Assistive Listening Device Captioning CART (live captioning) Employment Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss State Agencies Workplace

Workplace Accommodations for the Hard of Hearing

There is a chain of command for requesting accommodations at work. Do your research before making the request, check in with your tribe—peer support groups for Hard of Hearing [HoH] come in all forms now—to ask what they have tried and how it worked for them. Include options in your request and give as much information as you can about possible accommodation(s) to help educate your employer before they do their own research. When you’re ready, start with your supervisor who will go up the chain of command from there. Remember, it’s all in the asking. Be as polite as possible and true to yourself and your needs.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has an Employees’ Practical Guide to Requesting and Negotiating Reasonable Accommodation Under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guideline with examples to get you started. One thing to note with hearing loss is that in some instances there isn’t a lot of room to negotiate, as we need the most effective communication access accommodation when doing our job depends on getting information right.

Chelle: There are so many accommodation options for the HoH these days. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t well known to either the employer or the employee. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations. What is reasonable? Is it what the employer decides or what the person with hearing loss decides? What it comes down to is what do we need to be successful in our job

Messy desk with stacks of notebooks and books. Computer monitor faces away from the door. The empty chair is facing the door.
Desk with computer and monitors not facing the door.
Same office with the desk facing the door.
Desk facing the door.

For myself—it’s different for everyone—I’ll try what they suggest and work my way up. I document as I go sharing reasons when and why something didn’t work. Also, I share what works.  

Here’s a scenario from my last job. I worked in the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing center and they were great about providing the accommodations I needed. I was the first person to request CART (live captioning) consistently. At first, they forgot to schedule it half the time. They told me it was part of my responsibility to remind the office manager. I started looking at my calendar the last week of each month and listed all the meetings I’d like to have CART for the upcoming month. It taught me to be proactive with my accommodation.

We had a strategic plan meeting where equality and inclusion were embraced. The Deaf staff stepped up in making sure CART was provided. While CART is the gold standard, there is often a two hour minimum requirement in hiring CART. The staff scheduled CART for one-on-one, small, or side group meetings. Awesome, right? We were all learning to accommodate each other.  

However, some meetings would be forgotten, or were only 15-30 minutes. There would be an hour and a half of paid CART unused. Waste drives me nuts so I wrote up guidelines on what is reasonable sharing in a document with the staff.

  • I need CART for staff meetings. Always. I need that information and can’t guess at it, it’s my job. 
  • I need CART for any meeting that’s an hour or more.
  • I can do the short, casual meetings with ASR (automatic speech recognition) that are under an hour. It has to be Google Meet because their ASR (automatic speech recognition) is better than Zoom.
    • It has to be a group of 5 or less. If it’s more than 5 people, CART is preferable.

Michele: At sixteen, working as a waitress was a struggle during peak hours when the noise level was deafening. After high school, I worked in office jobs—bookkeeper, legal receptionist/secretary—where I was required to answer the phone, take dictation using shorthand, and transcribe audio from cassette tapes. Yikes, why did I think I could do those jobs well with hearing loss? Taking phone messages was torture. Meetings and transcribing audio were a nightmare. I missed things and made mistakes, and it made me feel incompetent, which wasn’t true. I simply couldn’t hear as well as I needed to for those jobs. 

My first accommodation in the workplace was with a finance company. I disclosed my hearing loss in the interview and was hired. My employer had a volume controlled telephone installed for me. As my hearing loss progressed, I offered the solution that I would manage fax intake in exchange for being taken off telephone rotation—not a huge deal, as we were an email-driven company. I was grateful that my manager was agreeable and flexible, though some saw it as special treatment.

Even with a flexible manager and boss, I encountered others who were the opposite. Example: During an office remodel I requested that my cubicle be configured so the entrance was visible from my desk to alleviate being startled by people approaching me from behind. “No, that’s not possible,” was the answer. I didn’t know that I had the right to push it further.

I left the finance company to move to another state. Looking for work, I was introduced to the Minnesota Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS) office by my CareerForce rep, where I qualified for job seeker services. I had no idea that such agencies existed or about any of the accommodation available to the HoH.

Contacting your state agency to see if they offer workplace training for your employer and coworkers is a good idea. They also should have equipment and technology for you to try. And remember, one size does not fit all. You may have to explain to your employer that what works for someone else with hearing loss might not be the best solution for you. Having DHHS in your corner as a co-advocate can help assure employers that there are solutions to help people with hearing loss perform their job well.

Julia: Over the years I have heard all sorts of horror stories about accommodation requests going right and wrong. 

When it failed:

  • The business didn’t know what accommodations were available and refused to find out what could be tried.
  • The employee didn’t want to make a fuss.

And when it went right:

  • The employer worked with the employee to find the correct reasonable accommodation(s).
  • The employee knew they needed accommodation(s) and may or may not have known all available tools. And was proactive with requesting accommodations.

Start with knowing your rights as an employee. Be proactive by researching and reaching out to others on what they use at work. Our Talk about it Tuesday is a great place to do this. On our Glossary page we have an organization listed, JAN, Job Accommodation Network. They have great online tools that can help employees and employers with respect to accommodations. 

Businesses: If you know and understand ASL accommodations for an employee. Awesome! You’ve met 1% of the hearing loss community needs… Now here is what else you should be able to say you know about:

☐ ALDs – assistive listening devices
☐ Caption landline services
☐ ASR – automatic speech recognition
☐ CART – communication access realtime translation
☐ Typewell
☐ Cell phone caption apps

If you are able to put a check in each of the boxes above, thank you for being a proactive employer ready to meet your employees every need. If not, there are many places that offer education with online CEUs. And, if you want to understand more about employees with hearing loss, sign up and meet with us here at Hearing Loss LIVE!

Sometimes employers are resistant to providing accommodations and you might have to push or make your request higher up in the chain of command. The ADA is on your side. However, we don’t recommend beginning the process in a threatening way. Give your employer a chance to come through, help educate them when necessary, and use the services available to you and your employer to arrive at solutions that work for you both. Making changes can be a painful process, but it’s a good feeling when it all comes together and you get what you need for optimum performance in the workplace. Remember, you aren’t just helping yourself, you’re making a path for others who will surely come after you.

View our companion podcast here. You can also find us on Spotify, iHeartRadio, BuzzSprout and more. Search for Hearing Loss LIVE!

If you enjoy our content and find it helpful, please consider donating so that we can reach more people with hearing loss to help them help themselves.

Categories
Connections deaf Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Live Theatre Speechreading/Lipreading

Michael Conley Playwright, Reading Lips

Our guest this week is playwright Michael Conley who talks about his play “Reading Lips“. Michael was born in a small town in Kansas. After high school in Chicago and college at the University Delaware, he moved to New York. He received his MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University. Michael currently resides in San Diego and is the Co-Vice President of the San Diego Chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America.

Michael’s plays have been presented in New York, San Diego and Philadelphia.

Michael: Writing “Reading Lips” brought out a part of my identity that I didn’t even know was there. Meeting people with a hearing loss and learning that they experienced the same challenges I have always faced made me realize that I’m part of a larger community. That although I had been struggling my whole life with developing tips on how to “get by” (as I call it), everyone else was trying to get by as well.

Working on the play introduced me to a lot of people I would otherwise not have met. Meeting those who used ASL to communicate made me want to learn ASL. That in turn led to studying Deaf Culture—this history that we all share (even if peripherally).

At the time, I thought “Deaf people” were only people who had no hearing at all. I remember asking someone who was completely deaf if they consider me as Deaf. “Sure!” Not only did that give me more insight into the range of hearing losses people have, but it also gave me an appreciation of how inclusive and embracing the Deaf Community is.

Chelle:
I love making connections with others who have hearing loss. Everyone has something to teach me. I attend Audible Talkers Toastmasters meetings which are held online. I’ve been a member for a year and a half. Their meetings are accessible to the Hard of Hearing (HoH) with live captioning and automatic speech recognition. HoH members get a transcript, or outline, of each speech before the meeting, allowing us to enjoy the live speech and provide more effective feedback. The club is supportive and their members, HoH, hearing, English as a second language, and more, are each fascinating in their own way.

Michael was a guest at recent meeting (anyone can attend as a guest). Alongside his name I noticed readinglips.com. Of course I had to investigate that! It turns out Michael is a playwright and that makes it all the more interesting so we invited him to podcast with us. It was great having him with us.

On his website, Michael shares information about his play, “Reading Lips”, a full-length play about being gay and Deaf. While writing the play, he posed the questions, “Am I gay man who happens to be Deaf? Or a Deaf man who just happens to be gay?” In the upcoming podcast with Hearing Loss LIVE!, Michael shares, “Having a hearing loss has made far more of an impact on the choices I made in life,” and that made me think.

Hearing loss changed the course of my life after the last big drop. How many times have I thought ahead and said, No I can’t go. It won’t be accessible to me. I quit the one job I thought I’d be doing all my life because of hearing loss. I went into a deep dark hole which took a few years to climb out of. Hearing loss impacts our lives in many ways.

Hearing loss affects relationships in our family too. During our podcast together, Michael tells a story about how growing up with a hearing loss affected his family life. I’m not going to spoil the story here, you’ll have to watch.

Gallaudet University Campus, Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Reading Lips website
June/July 2019: Michael Conley studying American Sign Language (ASL) at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., the world’s only university for the Deaf and people with a hearing loss.

Photo Credit: Reading Lips website

Michele: Before our podcast with Michael, I read everything on his website and searched for more information on the internet. I was especially interested in his experience at Gallaudet University, as I’ve thought about doing something similar—spending a semester or two studying American Sign Language (ASL) and immersing myself in a community rich in Deaf culture. I especially love Washington DC, so there’s that too.

Because there was a no-voicing policy in his program at Gallaudet, Michael talked about how liberating it was not to have to wear his cochlear implant (CI) or hearing aid, and not having to position himself to read people’s lips. I can relate. I’ve never worn hearing aids (other than in trials) or CI. If there is any consolation in not finding help with technology, it is a certain freedom from trying to hear better—something members of Deaf culture understand and embrace—which in turn has allowed me to focus more on communicating better.

I sometimes think people with hearing loss are so focused on their quest for technology to help them hear better, they miss the really important step of learning to be comfortable with who they are without any type of aid or communication tool.

We are likely never going to hear as well as we would like to in some situations—battery failure, too much noise or distance, and/or weak WiFi and cell phone service depletes the effectiveness of our hearing devices, assistive listening technology, and ASR (automatic speech recognition) apps. Even lipreading, textual English, and ASL are a challenge without a readable speaker, captioner, or interpreter.

However, if we can learn to communicate confidently even without any of the valuable communication tools and technology we rely on, we are going to have a life with fewer limits. That is no small thing.

Julia: We are always looking for like minded folks to podcast and blog with. Chelle asked us to review Michael’s website and see if we liked the fit. I read the first three lines of “Reading Lips” and responded, oh yes!

I love the theater. Grew up on it. By age eight I could tell folks what costumes were different in that season of Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker”. I love musicals and often sing show tunes around my house—some lyrics I make up depending on my mood. I’ll take thought provoking, personal growth and experience, small theater any day. I would love to see a production of this play. It’s different and refreshing. It’s about finding your identity. As much as I love the originals, small playhouses where the director and playwright work together I find so enjoyable.

The first time I met Michael was in a Hearing Loss LIVE! Self Advocacy workshop presented by Michele Linder. Michael asked a question, why would folks not just ask for what you need? Why indeed! We need more HoH people to adopt this mindset. Be proactive, be diverse. Be the best HoH you can be!

Watch our companion podcast with Michael.

If you liked this podcast, try artist Liza Sylvestre who explores her hearing loss through art. Also take a look at our blog with Salt Lake Acting Company who offers open captioned plays.