How to work effectively with hearing loss in committees and working groups

Problems of joining a committee or working group if you are deaf

As someone with hearing loss, it is essential to be very strict with yourself about the types of committee work that you undertake. It is all too easy to find yourself missing what is said and so being unable to contribute and feeling isolated, inadequate and stupid. Furthermore, the needs of deaf people can be somewhat irritating to group members who are trying to get work done in a limited time.

When and when not to join a committee or working group

Over years of trial and error, I have developed guidelines for my own participation in committees and working groups, Your hearing problems will not be the same as my hearing problems, so my guidelines won't all work for you. Nevertheless you may find that they stimulate your thinking and so help you to develop your own guidelines.

I only consider participating in a committee or working group if:

  1. It has to be clear to everyone concerned that I really do have something valuable to offer that probably can't be supplied by anyone else. I never agree to 'make up numbers' or be voting fodder.

  2. The chairman has to be someone whose speech I can understand relatively easily, is sympathetic about my hearing loss and is committed to helping me. The wholehearted support of a chairman cannot be taken at face value because most committees are short of members and they wrongly assume - in ignorance not malice - that deaf people will manage somehow once they are there.

  3. The membership has to be small. For me there must be no more than an absolute maximum of six.

  4. The members have to be aware of my needs. I like to negotiate in advance with the chairman that I have a slot to explain my needs myself at my first entry. This is partly because other people never seem to be able to explain my needs as well as I can and also because it shows that I am a real person to be taken seriously rather than just a body sitting there. I always ask everyone to say their names and something short about themselves to test their voices. This enables me to ask certain people if they would be good enough to move their seats so that those with whom I have most difficulty are closest to me. Some people cannot alter their voices for any length of time however hard they try.

Outstanding questions on coping in committees as a deaf person

Particular problems arise when other individuals 'sit in' on the group unexpectedly and so change its makeup and process. In this case:

  • Does the deaf person stop the proceedings and explain their needs all over again? That would seem rather disruptive and attention-seeking, and I have never done it.

  • Does the deaf person try to get the new person to leave? That would seem extremely rude and, again, I have never done it. Furthermore, my natural inclination is to be welcoming to new people.

  • Does the deaf person let the meeting press on regardless, hoping that the situation will improve in some way? That can work, but all too often it doesn't, and I have frequently lost the thread of what is going on and have felt very stupid indeed when someone suddenly asks me a question.

  • Does the deaf person just leave without saying anything? That too would seem rude and I have never done it.

If you have any ideas, please let me know.

5. When (not if) during the meeting, voices drop off, I raise my hand to attract the chairman's attention and point out what is happening. If I ever had to say it more than three times, I would feel justified in leaving - but this has never yet happened. Usually the individuals concerned apologise.

6. My membership always has to be on a trial basis.

10 coping strategies for the deaf

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.