As you know, it’s my intention to share with you the highs and lows of arranging this innovative event in Leeds on 29th and 30th June. So, in the interests of transparency, I want to share an update about my concerns for access for people with impairments to the #digihealthcon.
People with hearing impairment may be able to hear some of what is said, but it is often not easy for them to follow speech in large rooms, or from a distance, or with distractions. Following conversations in groups can also cause issues.
Some people with hearing impairment identify as Deaf, and the Deaf community is somewhat unique in communities of people with disabilities in that some of its members regard themselves as members of a sub-culture rather than a community of people with disabilities. I certainly can see how as members of a group with a defined culture, language, and conventions, it doesn’t fit easily with our usual expectations of groups associated with particular disabilities.
Access for Deaf people and people with hearing impairment
As a gathering of people with an interest in health and social care and in technology, it seems reaasonable to assume that some of the people interested in #digihealthcon may have hearing impairments or identify as Deaf. As the organiser, it is my job to ensure that their access needs are catered for. So, what access needs are necessary for Deaf people/ people with hearing impairments?
Leeds always seems to have an answer to any issue, and I remembered a group that used to be called the Leeds Deaf Blind Society. I am glad to report that they have changed their name to the much more modern and less stigmatising CoHearentVision, and offer a range of services and advice for people with hearing or sight impairments.
Please see their website here: http://www.cohearentvision.org.uk/
On the phone, I was able to ask a series of questions to understand the needs of these groups, and hopefully ensure this event is fully accessible for them.
- Do people with hearing impairments need BSL (British Sign Language) interpreters?
- People who are Deaf often learn BSL from a young age and are able to participate in events where a BSL interpreter is made available.
- People who develop hearing impairments later in life may choose not to learn BSL, and may rely on aids and adaptations to make good use of the remaining hearing they have. These people may not benefit from provision of a BSL interpreter.
- What other ways to meet the needs of people with hearing impairments should be considered in order to make sure an event is accessible?
- People with hearing impairments often make use of a Hearing Loop at events like the one you’re planning. It’s important that this is set up ahead of time- check with your venue that the rooms used have this facility.
- Do you think there are specific needs of Deaf people and people with hearing impairment that are important to consider when we’re thinking about health and social care services?
- Access to services is always a concern for people who are Deaf or have hearing impairment. There may also be issues with participation and involvement if decisions are made concerning these groups if they are not able to engage in discussions on equal terms with the other members.
So, I was fortunate enough to be able to get a quote for the provision of BSL interpreters for the event- two interpreters are required for events that last longer than 2 hours, as it is important that each interpreter has rest time built in. So, for our event, the quote relates to two interpreters for two days.
I was also fortunate enough to get some great advice from people on Twitter, who chipped in with their suggesstions of how to ensure an accessible event.
As is often the case, it soon became clear that some of the reasonable adjustments required meant that the attendance of other people with hidden disabilities such as anxiety and autism were also facilitated by putting into practice some of these ideas.
I have checked with the venue. The main room where we will spend the morning of Day 1 has Hearing Loop installed. Not all the rooms where we were planning to hold the workshops have Hearing Loops, but we have given them enough notice so that there is time to re-book rooms that have got Hearing Loops installed (they may be on another floor of the venue).
We have already built into the plan enough breakout space for people who need more quiet to have conversations, or who just want a bit of a break. The disability services manager is now available to me if I should want to check for any other accessibility arrangements- so that should make it easier the next time I want to check if particular groups or people can access the event.
It looks as if they don’t have the necessary software for Speech-to-Text available and suggested that they would attempt to use note-takers as a reasonable adjustment if required. I believe that we will have enough back-channel through Tweeting that we should be able to use a Twitterfall to address this need without adding complexity to the arrangements, so this is my plan unless I have a specific request to do different.
Unfortunately, I had not made account of these needs within the budgets I developed for the event. Hiring two BSL interpreters for two days is going to be quite expensive, so I plan to do this only if I hear from people who wish to attend who request it- or if I manage to crowd-source some funding or sponsorship for this. Do please let me know in the comments if you have ideas for tech companies specialising in kit for people with hearing impairments who might like to sponsor this!
Lesson learned- next time, I hope that I will consider access requirements a little bit sooner when working out my costings!