How to Ensure Greater Videoconferencing Success for all Hearing Abilities

By: Karyn Voels Malesevic, AuD, CCC-A, Audiologist & Manager of Audiology

Living under the conditions of COVID-19 has many of us becoming more reliant on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other video conferencing apps than we ever thought we would be. Between conference calls for work, children learning at home, or catching up with friends or family, it’s apparent that these programs are here to stay. Using these video conferencing tools for an individual with a hearing impairment can be challenging. Below, I have a few headphone and room setup recommendations to make the experience successful for all. 

Considerations for those with Hearing Impairment

Using headphones with hearing aids

If you are the person with hearing loss and you need to videoconference, built-in speakers and mics are generally not going to cut it. When determining what headphones are right for you as an individual with hearings aids, you first need to recognize what type of hearing aids you use. Hearing aids are separated into two main categories, behind the ear (BTE) and in the Ear/Canal (ITE/C) hearing aids. Some ITC aids fit entirely in the ear canal and are known as Completely In the Canal or (CIC). These are the smallest and least visible hearing aid types. 

ITE/C and CIC hearing aids may give you the most flexibility when finding a pair of headphones. According to Audiologist, Brian Fligor from a consumer reports article, “BTEs are especially finicky because the microphone, which picks up outside sounds that are then processed by the hearing aid, is outside the ear canal.” “If you have a headphone that doesn’t sit up and over that, then you’re not going to pick up any sound through the hearing aid itself.” In either case, there should be an option that works for you and your specific style of hearing aids that can be found after some trial and error. 

According to Fligor “the key is to find a pair that’s comfortable and holds the headphone speakers a reasonable distance from the hearing aid microphone in order to avoid feedback. Fligor says a distance of 1 centimeter, if not a little more, is usually a safe bet.” It’s also important to note that some people who wear ITC aids may also comfortably wear on-ear headphones, which are typically lighter and more portable. For some users who wear CIC aids, which are the smallest, they may even be able to wear earbuds depending on the fit of their hearing aid. The end process will likely come down to experimentation as each individual, and their preferences will vary. 

The articles below share more information on the topic of hearing aids and headphone’s and will provide recommendations for specific headphone models.

https://www.consumerreports.org/hearing-ear-care/headphones-and-hearing-aids/

https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52907-Using-headphones-with-hearing-aids

General Tips for Hearing-Friendly Video Conferences

Setup and Communication Style

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

The Hearing Journal addresses the importance of a successful video conference setup and recognizing communication styles. As a bonus, many of these tips help foster a better video conferencing atmosphere for everyone, not just those with a hearing impairment. The authors share:

  1. Secure a strong internet connection and a reliable visual setup to enhance non-verbal communication. Turn on your camera and sit in a well-lit space to brighten your face and avoid backlighting, such as light shining through a window behind a workstation. Sit reasonably close to the webcam with the top of the head to your elbows seen on camera.
  2. Foster high-quality audio and eliminate background noise. Use a high-quality microphone, headset/microphone combo, or earbuds. When you’re not speaking, put your microphone on mute to reduce background noise.
  3. Practice respectful communication etiquette. Speak in turn and state your name before speaking. Project your voice succinctly and articulately, and avoid fillers such as “so” and “um.” People with hearing loss have a hard time keeping up with spontaneous discussions and details, so try not to sway from the agenda and type your questions or clarifications in the chat feature of the videoconferencing tool you are using.
  4. Suggest these communication facilitation tips to the meeting host: Publish and stick to an agenda, request that questions, links, contact information, and other logistics be typed in the chat box that is visible to all participants, inform participants when the topic has changed, and give everyone, including the person with hearing loss, time to process the information and formulate a response.

For individuals with hearing impairment, adding real-time closed captioning can make a tremendous difference in their video conferencing experience. Many videoconferencing providers such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Skype now include an automatic live captioning feature.

Your hearing needs are important and our Audiology Department can help. Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions detected in infants, children, and older adults. We welcome people of every age, from newborns to adults, and offer a wide variety of services from basic hearing tests and evaluations to hearing aids and hearing aid fittings, all using leading-edge technology. For more information on our audiology services for all ages and help for hearing aid , please visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/hearing.html.

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