By Valerie Abbott
It happens all the time. I’m in a large meeting or at a presentation or at church service or at our local school and the presenter decides they don’t need a microphone. First, they start by asking, “Can everyone hear me okay?” Sometimes, they don’t even ask the group and instead will jump in saying, “I don’t think I need to use this microphone – I’m pretty loud,” and then they put it down and start talking.
I know these folks are well-intentioned. I believe they honestly think they have a voice loud enough for everyone to hear every word they are saying, even those in the back of the room. I know they believe the crowd when no one raises their hand to say, “Actually, we can’t hear you in the back,” or “I am hard-of-hearing and I will need you to use the microphone.”
As a parent of a child with hearing loss, I always cringe when I foresee the presenter forego the microphone. Having been handed one myself many times over the years, I know how awkward they can be – especially as someone who tends to use her hands any time I’m trying to relay information. Talking into a microphone can be a hassle, awkward, and sometimes an unforeseen challenge when at first it doesn’t seem to be working.
But, what I want the world to know is this:
Microphones are not used for the presenter – they are used for the audience. And, some of those audience members, such as my now 13-year-old daughter, may be deaf or hard-of-hearing. Some of them may be older people, who have lost their hearing, but have not yet had their hearing checked or taken the steps towards a hearing aid. Most of those people are eager to hear everything the presenter has to share, but will not hear enough without the use of a microphone. They will instinctively try to guess at what has been said, filling in the gaps through lipreading and asking the person next to them to repeat what was just shared. Often, they walk away with mis-information – simply because what they guessed or thought they heard was wrong. How would they know?
I cringe because I know if I were to raise my hand or stand up and say, “Actually, can you please use the microphone?” my teenage child would stare at me with dagger eyes and probably never attend a meeting with me again. I cringe because I’ve found myself asking my child if she can hear everything, sometimes with her peers around her, and she has never said anything other than, “Mom! Come on! Shhhh…”
So, I take mental notes. I imagine what details my child is missing as the speaker up front talks hands-free. And, on the ride home or later that day, I find myself quizzing my daughter to determine how much she heard and how much she missed. Sometimes, she has all the answers right – and sometimes not.
As she gets older, and continues to sharpen her self-advocacy skills, I wonder if she will ever be bold enough to raise her hand when the microphone is put to the side. I wonder if she will ever ask, in advance, if a microphone will be used – because she needs it to be. I wonder if one day no one will have to cringe, like I do from time to time, because more presenters assume their voice won’t be loud enough – instead of the other way around.
**Valerie Abbott is a 1-3-6 Family Educator and Learning Community Coordinator for the Center for Family Involvement at VCU. In this dual role, Valerie works closely with parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and professionals to help reduce loss to follow up. A graduate of Hollins University, she lives in Henrico County with her husband and two daughters, one of whom is hard-of-hearing. **