How to conduct groups on a site tour when some may be deaf

To explain this issue more fully, there are quite a number of individuals who are not professional tour leaders, tour guides or tour operators but who are asked to show a group of people round a site on an occasional basis.

Let me give two examples. I have recently been on a tour of a water purification plant, guided by an employee who knew a lot about water purification but had no experience as a tour guide; and I have been on a tour of an archaeological site where the archaeologist again knew her material but left many of us in ignorance of what she was actually saying. Quite generally people with hearing difficulties do not want to make a fuss by saying that they cannot hear. So the responsibility is on the guide.

On the basis of my experience of partial hearing loss, here are some suggestions for anyone who finds themselves guiding groups of people round a site on an occasional basis. Perhaps these suggestions are obvious, but if so, they are by no means always followed. So maybe professional tour guides could also learn a thing or two from them, even when guiding people with normal hearing!

  • Carefully choose where you are going to stand at each viewing stop. This should be somewhere where the group has space to gather round you. Then stay there! A nervous habit seems to be for guides to shuffle around changing their position once they have arrived near the viewing point, and that is really irritating for people with poor hearing who have positioned themselves close to the guide to hear what is going to be said. By the time the rest of the group has arrived, it is impossible for them to push through everyone else to re-position themselves. So they can't hear what the guide eventually says.
  • Wait until everyone in the group has arrived at a viewing point before starting what you have to say about it.
  • Project your voice! This means speaking so that the person furthest away from you can realistically hear what you are saying. It will help to look back and forth along the back row as you speak. People with hearing difficulties will try to position themselves close to you. So - if you follow this advice - they should be able to hear you.
  • Don't shout a request asking if people can hear at the back and then,  when those with best hearing shout back yes, return to your normal speaking voice. This is surprisingly and infuriatingly common.
  • Speak slowly, separating your words as much as is reasonable, rather like a newscaster on the radio. Don't try to show your expertise in the subject by gabbling.
  • Face the group as you speak. If you want to point to something behind you, either check where it is before you start speaking so that you can point while still facing the group, or talk about what you are going to point to, then point to it after you have finished speaking. A long pointer may be useful.
  • When someone asks a question, they will often be so close to you that other members of the group have no idea what was asked. So repeat the question or make it clear in your answer, and address your answer to the whole group (ie along the back row) not just to the person who asked the question.
  • If you want to talk to the group as you walk between viewing points, do appreciate that some surfaces may be noisy, which is background noise for a deaf person, and be firm about waiting until you are standing still with the whole group around you.

If you are giving a talk indoors where there is a loop system installed, do make sure that it is turned on and then tell your audience that it is.

support logo

Disclaimer: The information on this site is for a lay audience and I cannot be responsible for errors or omissions. The views, strategies, advice and suggestions etc are based on my personal experience and are not necessarily appropriate for anyone else. They should, hopefully, stimulate individuals to develop their own strategies.