Monday, April 2, 2012

CART Problem Solving: Communicating Sans Steno

CART Problem Solving Series
Sitting Apart
Handling Slides
Classroom Videos
Superscript and Subscript
Schlepping Gear
Late Hours
Expensive Machines
Communicating Sans Steno
Cash Flow
Test Nerves
Speech Recognition, Part I
Speech Recognition, Part II
Speech Recognition, Part III
Speech Recognition, Part IV

CART PROBLEM: Conversing with someone who has a hearing loss when steno isn't an option

You know that old adage "the shoemaker's children go barefoot"? I was speaking with my 85-year-old dad on the telephone yesterday, and I realized it fit me all too well. My dad has had a pretty serious hearing loss since I was a kid. He says it's from exposure to over an hour of loud static from a television set he was fixing back in the '80s. At first it was just his high frequencies that left him, but it's been progressive over time, and these days he finds talking on the telephone a real strain. I've offered to CART our phone calls, so that he can speak to me while I answer back in steno over the internet. He didn't go for it, just like he always refused to get fitted for hearing aids (he insists that the random one he found in a bargain bin at Goodwill works just fine) and like he refused to read the CART output screen I proudly set up for him at his 80th birthday party. He thinks my job is great and he's proud of me, but he's not interested in making use of accommodations, and I've learned over the years not to push him. When we talk on the phone, he gets by with a mixture of contextual guesswork, bluffing, and asking me to repeat myself. Over the years I've learned how to be patient and clear when communicating, how to paraphrase my sentences in several different ways, avoiding words containing high frequencies (like "th", "f", and "s") as much as possible, and how to gracefully let go of something I wanted to tell him if he's decided that he can't quite get it but he wants to move on. It's not an ideal solution, but it more or less works for us, and the important stuff comes through.

Different people feel differently, though. With my clients, I always email before first meeting them if I can, so that we can discuss their preferences in text. Onsite, I try to get the steno machine set up as early as possible, so that we can communicate unambiguously, without any potential for misunderstanding. Occasionally, though, the steno machine isn't at hand. If I'm meeting one of my deaf or hard of hearing friends for lunch, they don't always want me to take out my bulky and conspicuous gear; sometimes they do, and I never have a problem with it. But sometimes they want to talk without the machine between us. There's a huge variety of communication preferences among people with hearing loss, and it's important to ask them what they prefer and then to follow their lead. If they want to sit somewhere quiet and use mostly speech reading, there are a number of things you can do to make it easier for them: Speak somewhat slowly but normally, without either shouting or over-enunciating (which can distort the ordinary motions of the lips). Insert contextual markers (like "Oh, remember when we were talking about...") when changing subjects, instead of just jumping from one topic to another. Don't speak with your mouth full, turn away in the middle of a sentence, or cover your mouth with your hand. If there's a sudden background noise like a clatter of dishes or a motorcycle going by, pause and resume when it's over. Pay attention to their body language. If they're leaning forward with their eyebrows furrowed and their mouth tight, they might be straining a lot to get what you're saying. Offer to move somewhere quieter if you can, or just ask them if you should be doing anything differently.

All of the above generally works best for people who use their ears to some extent, with or without hearing aids or cochlear implants. Speech reading without any audio input whatever can be very difficult and frustrating, so many people without much audio feedback use other methods to communicate. Learning ASL is always a good idea in our line of work, though it takes a lot of intensive study to become conversational, much less fluent. I've been studying it for a number of years, and I'm still more or less a novice, though I hope to gradually get better with time and practice. Keep in mind that a lot of people with hearing loss don't know ASL. Late-deafened and hard of hearing people are less likely than culturally Deaf people to sign, though it's never good to assume based on someone's background whether they do or not. Always ask. Many of my clients don't know ASL, and at least least two of them have preferred Cued Speech instead. I don't know Cued Speech, but I'm planning to take a crash course in it this spring. I'm excited. It'll definitely take less training than learning an entirely new language like ASL, but it's important to remember that significantly fewer people know how to cue than how to sign.

I couldn't embed it, but click here for an ASL version of Jabberwocky

If all else fails and you're still unable to use your steno machine for whatever reason, there's always the old standbys: Gesture, facial expression, and longhand writing -- or, more often these days, tapping out letters on a smartphone keyboard. Whatever method you use to communicate, just be patient, attentive, and respectful, and you'll never go far wrong.


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