There are some particular challenges for those of us with hearing loss when interacting online, but today I learned some new tips for managing them.

I have had a sneaking suspicion for a long time that there must be Things to help those of us with hearing loss that I just don’t know about. Then there’s the help that comes from other people with hearing loss, if you can find them. My early glimpses into the cochlear implant world suggest that there is a ready-made support network, of mentors and CI groups and the implant companies themselves. While I have the understanding of family members with hearing loss, and have connected with other deaf people through Twitter, it feels rather that with an implant you walk together and with a hearing aid (or two) you walk alone. 

I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I get the impression that there is a level of innovation and energy around CIs that isn’t found in hearing aid development – or the accessories and gadgets that are available to help those with hearing loss. Now I’m very thankful for my Roger pen, which I find helpful in some situations. But in some areas assistive technology seems, well, terribly last century.

Sleeping on a rugby ball…

Take the business of smoke alarms in hotels, for instance. In the pre-pandemic days when a work trip came my way a couple of times a year, hotel check-in would involve me asking for the vibrating device for under my pillow (yes, the entertainment started right there). This thing, allegedly, would wake me in the event of the fire alarms going off. One of three things would follow this request. I’d be told there wasn’t a gadget but they would allow a colleague to have a key to my room so they could rescue me. Or the man on reception would promise that he or a firefighter would rescue me. Or I’d be given a device that was like a cross between a very hard rugby ball and a frisbee, with a thick flex and a box attached to it. This was to go under my pillow. Seriously? I think the idea behind this is that it keeps you awake all night, thereby ensuring you don’t sleep through the alarm (bound to be something that flashes if you’re awake to see it). I have been known to throw caution to the wind and just trust I’ll live to see the morning. I’ve been thinking about this recently, feeling there must be something newer, better and surely smaller than this. But, if there is, I can’t find it.

So I am reading about implant technology and the promise of instant connectivity between my future bionic head and the devices I use every day (hey, can I send a message to the kettle to make me a cup of tea do you think?!) with wide-eyed wonder. But even before I get to that, I have discovered there is help at hand that I just didn’t know about, thanks to a webinar given by Advanced Bionics, one of the cochlear implant companies.

Top tips for hearing in a virtual world

This was the theme of their webinar and their tips are for anyone with hearing loss – not just implant users, and for those wishing to improve online communication for deaf/hard of hearing people. Some were familiar to me, some were new – and I haven’t tried those yet, but here they all are.

Make sure your host knows what your requirements are

Hmm, see above for hotels and fire alarms, but this is worth a try. If you are communicating (online or in person) with someone with hearing loss, may I suggest asking them “how can I help you hear?” I have written about this magic phrase in this blog How can I help you hear?

Zoom/Google Meet are best for captions

They’re free and apparently the most accurate. Microsoft Teams captions can only be switched on if you’re using the desktop app and aren’t switched on as the default for every person.

More captions options
  • The latest version of Chrome can be set to enable captions on any video. You can find it by following Menu – Settings – Advanced – Accessibility – toggle live captions.
  • To see captions for a PowerPoint presentation, ask for it to be presented in the web browser, where this is then an option.
  • is a free tool you can open and it will caption what comes into your laptop/desktop microphone, so you could see captions for a live presentation, for example.
  • Speech-to-text apps. There are several for Android and iPhones. With iPhone, most have to be paid for, but Connect by BeWarned is quite accurate and free. In my experience, where speech-to-text apps are not accurate they are often hilarious so it’s a win-win situation.
Background noise
  • Presenters, please use a microphone and head set
  • Improve room acoustics (not sure how feasible this is…)
  • Use hearing device streaming accessories
  • Background noise can be reduced in some platforms e.g. Zoom – go to audio setting and there’s an option to suppress background noise
  • Presenters should face the light source where possible
  • Ring lights are now easily and cheaply available and are great for lighting a presenter’s face when making videos
Keep the camera on
  • Presenters should keep their camera on, make sure their mouths aren’t obscured (I shall add that elaborate facial hair is out) and no eating or drinking while talking (!)
  • Use Spotlight in Zoom/Teams to enlarge the speaker screen
Ask for contextual information
  • Meeting agenda and discussion points
  • Ask for a presentation beforehand
  • Ask for the transcript before you watch a pre-recorded session
  • Ask presenters to use digital laser pointers
Know your listening fatigue limits

Meetings no longer than an hour, with breaks for questions every 20 minutes (not sure how the question breaks are any less demanding unless you go and make tea at that point…)

Fun fact: the brains of deaf/hard of hearing people use three times as much glucose when consuming auditory information that those of people with normal hearing. Sounds like the perfect excuse to eat more chocolate.

One at a time
  • One topic at a time
  • One speaker at a time
  • Tasks/activities to be done separately to the presentation

One more thing… Google slides

Since writing this blog, a colleague has let me know about Google slides and I am looking forward to trying this out. Here’s what she has told me:

Live closed captions

When you are presenting, google slides can generate live captions by analysing the sound in your microphone, and display them on the slide. You can alter the placement and size of the captions. English only, so far.

  • Enter Presentation mode (top right, next to Share button)
  • Open menu at bottom left of screen, choose Caption preferences and Toggle captions.
  • Magic!

Live audience Q&A

  • Present slides by clicking the dropdown arrow next to Presenter button and choose Presenter view
  • In the pop-up box that displays for presenter, choose the “audience tools” tab and click the “Start new” button. 
  • Collect audience questions and comments by sharing the link that displays.
  • Audience can submit questions with their name or anonymously, and can vote on questions submitted
  • You can display questions that you want, so they appear in your presentation
  • To access those questions later, open that slide presentation and go to Tools > Q&A history

Laser pointer tool

There is a laser pointer tool as well (but maybe people already know about that… news to me!)

Find it in the same menu as the closed captions, from a Presenter view mode.

  • Short command for laser tool: L
  • Short command for Presenter view: S

Do share your tips!

 So there you have it. I have some new things to explore from this list.  I might have to come back to this and report how I got on. If you have other tips for coping with hearing loss for online interactions, please do share them in the comments.

Blog updated 25 May 2021

Photo by Ayla Verschueren on Unsplash