Being sensitive to needs of those with hearing loss
On 18 October, members of the Anna Chaplaincy team in Kent took part in an excellent Zoom workshop on deaf awareness led by Judi Pettman. Judi is a teacher of the deaf and a qualified lip-reading teacher. She helped participants understand the challenges deaf people face in attending church services and the more informal café-style activities Anna Chaplains often organise.
Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, comes on gradually as a person gets older and can make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying. Hearing aids that are prescribed amplify all sounds so that speech can become a jumble and a muddle amongst all the other noise.
Participants were invited by Judi to list the many background noises that can make hearing difficult at church: people walking on gravel paths; organ music played while conversations are happening at the end of services; the scraping of chairs; lights, projectors or heaters that make low-level buzzing sounds; lots of chattering voices. The list is endless.
Judi gave advice on speaking with people who lip-read and listed ways church leaders can adapt to show awareness of lip-readers in the congregation. A simple step, like allocating the role of checking the loop system is on and working correctly before services, can make a world of difference. Judi also suggested strategies deaf people themselves might use to participate more fully in church life.
A point in church services where deaf people often struggle is during intercessions because the person leading prayers often bows their head, closes their eyes, doesn’t use facial expression and speaks softly. This can leave people with hearing loss feeling left out, awkward, bewildered, embarrassed or anxious. There are many simple ways churches can include people with hearing difficulties, if only there is an awareness of the challenges they face.
Judi runs regular courses on lip-reading over four Zoom sessions – have a look at this flyer for information about the next programme which begins in November. There is no charge for the course, but Judi encourages donations to Anna Chaplaincy.