Posts Tagged 'coping strategies for hard of hearing teachers'

Hearing Hell

cone of silence

“How can I help you today?” said the very nice audiologist to Clinic O’s cookiebite bad penny. I had turned up this time in a last ditch bid to see if there was anything that could be done to reduce the overwhelming amount of amplified background noise which is currently rattling my cochleas, and my nerves, in the architecturally stunning new learning spaces at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour.

“Can I show you some pictures of where I work”, I pleaded, “then what I’m asking might make more sense. When I say I’m a lecturer, people assume I stand in a lecture theatre talking all day, but I actually spend most of my time listening; doing one to one tutorials and large and small group discussions in the studio with a group of 50 on average. I’ve only got a mild loss; it’s always been tricky because of the environment, but now that we’ve moved to open plan for the entire department it’s impossible. I don’t know what to do…if I take the hearing aids out, the noise is vastly reduced, but then I can’t make out what the students are saying in normal conversation. I can hear fine in quiet spaces, but I’m rendered deaf in here… ” I pulled out my iPad to show the photos of my studio on an open mezzanine above the main studios.

“Oh dear, I see what you mean, you haven’t got a hope with hearing aids in there”, said the very nice audiologist. “It’s all hard concrete surfaces and glass, and with all the noise coming up from below, and in the sides from the refectory, and 120 people in the space all doing different activities, no hearing aids would cope well with that. I doubt there’s much I can do, but let’s take a look at your settings, there might be some small adjustments that can be made. You never know.”

A few mouseclicks later, and the disappointing news came that all the noise reduction features were already activated. It seemed there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre. The very nice audiologist explained that a lot of background noise inhabits the same frequencies of the cookie bite zone where the amplification is required, therefore reduce the background noise, and you reduce the amplification on voices at the same time. Catch 22, hearing aid style. Can’t hear with ’em, can’t hear without ’em.

Nonetheless, she did some adjustments on the standalone speech in noise programme for me to try, leaving the speech in noise settings on the automatic programme unchanged, so that I wouldn’t be any worse off if the tweaks didn’t work.

They didn’t. Cone of Silence it is, then…

All I want for Christmas

Tetra Shed

“It’s beautiful, I want one!” I drooled, as Hearing Aid Avenger unveiled the stylish alternative to his original soundproof booth suggestion for background noise control in the new studio.

“It’s called the tetra shed® “, said Hearing Aid Avenger.

“According to their website,” he continued, “it’s a new modular building system which, as a single module, has been designed to be a modern garden office. You’ve always said you wanted your very own shed, and I reckon its tough outdoor credentials will make it very suitable for coping with indoor activities in an art college, those students don’t half make a mess…”

“Very true”, I sighed, remembering a recent monoprinting class which involved the enthusiastic rolling of black ink. The washing up session afterwards left the place looking like the aftermath of a devastating explosion in a squid processing factory.

The robustness of tetra shed in the face of inky explosions certainly made it appealing but, selfishly, I was far more excited about another aspect of its unique construction. With all its doors closed it looked like a beautiful blue-black rock sculpture. I pictured myself hidden away secretly inside with my laptop. In moments of acoustic distress, I could take out my hearing aids and efficiently despatch my admin duties from behind tetra shed’s closed doors, instead of flailing dementedly in the full acoustic crossfire of the open plan office. This shed could change my life.

“How much does it cost?” I enquired with great interest.

Teaching with a hearing loss

It’s goodbye to all this…

When I started this blog, I had grandiose ideas about adapting the studio learning environment I teach in to minimise the impact of my hearing loss on my interactions with students, whilst at the same time improving certain aspects of the environment for everyone. This all sounded great in theory, but art studio spaces, and their inhabitants, are something of a law unto themselves and I have spectacularly failed at everything I set out to do.

Forget U-shaped seating arrangements at discussions. There is an irreconcilable conflict between your need to have the speakers as uniformly close to you as possible, and the students’ desire to be as uniformly far away from you as possible.

Forget moving closer to the person doing the speaking. Art students love mess, and it would not be the first time an abandoned wardrobe from a skip, or some eye-poking construction hanging from the ceiling has come between my straining ear and the elusive mumbles of a Type 5 Inaudible speaker.

Forget making sure no-one talks with their back to the audience. People love talking with their back to the audience, especially those with quiet voices.

Forget asking the speaker to speak up/ raise their hand before speaking. You’ll wear out your vocal cords in the first five minutes and get nowhere.

Forget eliminating background noise. You can’t, with sixty people rattling around in a room where the only acoustic damping is provided by an Ikea sofa and a burst cushion from a skip.

In the face of my failure, I am consoling myself with the fact that any infrastructural alterations would have been a waste of time anyway, since the building I work in is about to be demolished in a few days to make way for a shiny new building. My innovative but untested strategies, such as nailing all the seats to the floor to prevent them being scraped loudly every time someone moves, and installing a power tool immobilisation system for use during group discussions will hopefully be redundant in a state of the art building. More conventional strategies may be found here.

Fortunately, I’m about to get a second chance at my project, because our temporary home is another concrete lined open-plan space. There is now no hiding place for my No.1 sneaky HOH coping tactic of talking to students in the office instead of at their desks, because there is no room for an office in the new space. I shall need to apply my mind to finding another solution, but as the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

We shall see.


Blog Stats

  • 184,132 hits