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A Word in Your Ear – Very Important Information for Church Leaders

Did you know that:

One in six people have some degree of hearing loss, most of whom wear hearing aids and some will have cochlear implants? Most of these people do not know or use sign language.

Hearing aids and cochlear implants work in different ways, but they are both electronic devices.

What do they do?  They make all sounds louder, both the sounds you want to hear (speech, music, warning sounds), and the sounds you don’t want to hear (unwanted background noise).

What don’t they do? They do NOT give normal hearing in the way that spectacles correct your sight. Most do not give any sense of direction to the sounds received.

How do people with a hearing loss pick up what’s going on? With a lot of effort! They use their hearing aids or cochlear implants; they use lip-reading (but only 30% of speech sounds appear on the lips, which means it’s like reading a book where only three out of ten letters are printed). They also depend on facial expression and body language.

How can you help members of your congregation with a hearing loss?

It is a legal requirement to install a loop system. Setting up and adjusting the system is a skilled task which should be undertaken by a professional who understands the field strength requirements. The loop requires its own amplifier, separate from the amplifier used by the PA system.

Before the service begins always check that the loop is switched on, and properly adjusted.  If possible, ask a person with a hearing aid (on the “T” setting) to check that the loop system is working properly.

Make sure the church is well lit so that the speaker’s face is not in shadow. Ask speakers to face the congregation, which helps lip-reading. When people read the Bible on the lectern or pray, they should look upwards, rather than down.

Ensure that everyone who is taking part in the service uses the microphone at the front (use a roving microphone if the speaker needs to remain where they are sitting).

Try to project as much as possible of what is said onto a screen (data projection) and/or have printed copies available for those who are unable to use the loop (not everyone with a hearing loss can access the loop). This should include the sermon (or a brief outline), Bible reading, prayers, hymn numbers, etc.

Please ask the person with a hearing loss what extra individual help they may need.  For example, arrange to have someone sit next to the person with a hearing loss, so that they can help them through the service. This can be either by lip-speaking, finding the right page and guiding with their finger, or by taking notes on a note pad or a laptop. A sign language interpreter or a speech-to-text typist may be provided for those with a severe or profound hearing loss.

Hearing loss is a very isolating and lonely disability, so make people with a hearing loss feel welcome.  Be patient, understand that they may feel nervous and afraid of ‘getting things wrong’.  Shouting can alter the shape of the mouth and for those who lip read, only make things more difficult.  It is better to speak a little more slowly and clearly, making sure that the light is not behind the speaker.  Many people with a hearing loss are unable to gauge the volume of their own voice, so they may speak very loudly or almost in a whisper.

Consider starting a group specifically for people with a hearing loss. It’s difficult for them to join regular groups as they often can’t follow what is being said.  Open Ears can give you some pointers on how to run a home group successfully.

Most people with a hearing loss can manage reasonably well ‘one-to-one’, but in a group they feel lost in a sea of meaningless sound. They are missing out on teaching, fellowship, and in the social life of the church. Many will leave the church altogether if they do not have the support and encouragement they need.

People with a hearing loss have many gifts and talents. Don’t let your church miss out on their ministry and contributions!

Helpful tips for people with a hearing loss.

  • Tell others that you have a hearing loss, and that the speaker needs to face you and speak slowly and clearly.
  • Make sure that the light (electric or natural) is shining onto the speaker’s face, as this helps with lip-reading.
  • Never be afraid to ask for things to be repeated if you don’t understand the first time. Or better, ask for it to be reworded, as that helps to make the context clearer. Knowing what the subject is puts the conversation in context and reduces the amount of guesswork required when lip-reading.

We would suggest always carrying a notebook and pen, so that anything not understood can be written down.

Deaf Awareness Talks

If you would like someone to give a talk about the nature of hearing loss, we may be able to arrange this. Please get in touch and ask.