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Accommodations ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) Communication Practices Community Members Connections Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss

Toastmasters with Harry Wolfe

Audible Talkers is a hearing loss friendly Toastmasters group started by Harry Wolfe.  It’s based in Arizona but because meetings are online via Zoom, anyone from anywhere can join. (Several members have been from different countries.) Chelle was invited to attend an online meeting during the pandemic by a mutual friend who also has hearing loss. By joining this group, Chelle improved her speaking skills and made a valuable connection with the hearing loss community in Arizona. She appreciates Harry’s efforts to make the club accessible to those of us with hearing loss. He also advocates to help Toastmaster clubs to become more hearing loss aware. Today, we introduce you to Harry Wolfe.

Zoom gallery view with 14 Audible Talkers Toastmasters members present. everyone is smiling. Several members have hearing loss in this Toastmasters group.
Audible Talkers Toastmasters first meeting online.
Harry, can you tell us a little bit about your hearing loss journey?

In the mid 90’s I experienced some minor hearing loss. My audiologist/surgeon recommended a stapedectomy to resolve the hearing loss. The stapedectomy was done on my right ear in 1996, but instead of improving my hearing, I lost most of the hearing in that ear. That prompted me to procure my first set of hearing aids. The hearing aids served me well.  

You are the ultimate Toastmasters member! Tell us your history with Toastmasters. 

Harry: I joined Toastmasters for the first time in 1982. The club I joined was ‘Single Desert Voices’.  The main reason I joined was to meet new people and make more friends. I also wanted to enhance my speaking skills. 

In 1990, I took a break from Toastmasters and didn’t rejoin until 1998.  This time I became a member of the ‘Park Central’ Toastmasters. As of December, I have been a member of this club for 25 years.

In addition to being a member of Park Central Toastmasters, in 2005 I joined a bilingual club —  La Voz de Oro — to work on improving my Spanish communication skills.   Over the next 10 years, I delivered many speeches in Spanish, and even made a video of one of them. Here is the LINK to the video. I discontinued my membership in the club in 2015.

Hearing loss became an issue in 2018. I began having trouble hearing the speakers at Park Central Toastmasters. I attributed the decline in my hearing to the aging process.  Realizing that people with hearing loss would have trouble participating in Toastmasters,  in 2019 I founded a club to accommodate them: Audible Talkers Toastmasters.  Around this time, I also joined a local HLAA chapter to learn more about hearing loss. 

Audible Talkers Toastmasters accommodates Hard of Hearing members through captioning, written transcripts of speeches, and uploading to YouTube video-recordings of the speeches. To ensure accessibility, we edit the ASR generated captions to make them more accurate. Our club also follows other communication best practices such as making sure the video-camera is turned on and there is adequate lighting so we can see the person’s face.

In 2022, I served as a Toastmasters Area Director overseeing three clubs. I joined one of the clubs — Showtime — because it was having problems recruiting new members.

Currently, I am a member of three Toastmasters clubs: Park Central, Showtime and Audible Talkers. I have been a member of Toastmasters for 33 years, deducting the 8 years when I discontinued my membership 

What was it like starting Audible Talkers Toastmasters?

I applied to Toastmasters International to establish a new club in April of 2019. It took me six months to obtain the 20 members needed to become a chartered club. We became an official Toastmasters Club in November of 2019.

A line of people smiling while holding their Audible Talkers Toastmasters gift certificates in a meeting room.
Audible Talkers Toastmasters holding up their membership certificates.

In recruiting new members, I pointed out that the club placed emphasis on being inclusive. About half of our members have hearing loss, while the others have typical hearing. I like to say that Audible Talkers Toastmasters is not a club for people with hearing loss; it is a club for everyone, INCLUDING people with hearing loss. 

We used social media and relied on our members to recruit additional people to the club. During the pandemic, we became an online club and have continued being a strictly online club. Our members are from Saudi Arabia, Germany, the Bahamas,  Colombia, and Canada. We also had members from states outside of Arizona: Utah, California, and Pennsylvania. In 2023, we recruited new members from Atlanta Georgia and South Portland Maine.

Zoom gallery photo of several members. The captions are reminding everyone to turn off their mic if not talking to help the HoH members and the captions.
The beginning of a meeting. There’s a reminder for people to turn off their microphones while talking. It helps the speech to text and the HoH members.
What do you want other Toastmasters groups to know about accessibility for those with hearing loss?

That about 15% of the world-wide population has some kind of hearing loss, although many people refuse to acknowledge it. In Maricopa County, where Audible Talkers is physically located, there are about 800,000 people with hearing loss. Many of them are good candidates for membership. During the last few years, Toastmasters had placed a high priority on recruiting new members. If Toastmasters Clubs used the appropriate measures to make their clubs’ hearing accessible, they could successfully recruit new members. I have prepared instructions on how to add captions to Zoom meetings and demonstrated that it can be done in five minutes.

Several members of our club said that they had always wanted to join Toastmasters, but were concerned that their hearing loss would not enable them to participate fully with speeches.  The accommodation measures we use have attracted these people.

Thank you Harry!

Chelle is one of those people who wanted to join Toastmasters in the past and didn’t because of accessibility issues. People with hearing loss are constantly fighting for accessibility in their lives. Advocating for one more thing can get tiring. Nothing says welcome like “We have accessibility options in place.” We appreciate your inclusion. 

Look for our podcast with Harry January 25, 2024 on our YouTube channel. You can also find it on your favorite podcast streaming platform.

Join an Audible Talkers Toastmasters Meeting.
Audible Talkers Toastmasters flyer. White background, splashes of color; yellow, gray and black shapes. 
Online Audible Talkers Toastmasters. Improve your speaking skills. Next meeting is Monday January 22, 2024 6:00 to 7:15 PM Mountain Time.Scan the code to view agenda.

They are held the first and third Mondays of each month. Exception for January because each Monday was a holiday! Their next meeting is January 22, 2024 at 6:00 PM Mountain time (adjust for your time zone). Meetings are held online via Zoom. Anyone can join the meetings as a guest. Use this LINK. If you’d like transcripts of the speeches before attending the meeting, contact Harry at least 2 hours prior to the meeting. 

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