World Hearing Day 2022

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “major causes of hearing loss include congenital or early onset childhood hearing loss, chronic middle ear infections, noise-induced hearing loss, age-related hearing loss, and ototoxic drugs that damage the inner ear”. Most importantly, here at ANU we also need to understand the impacts of hearing loss particularly in study and at work.

WHO states that “the impacts are broad and can be profound”. If communication is impaired all activities on campus are as well: tutorials, study work meetings, social activities are impacted. Besides having to cope with an enormous cognitive load and resulting fatigue, this can often lead to social isolation, loneliness and frustration. We need to provide sufficient accommodations for hearing loss, otherwise it can affect students’ academic performance, options for employment and mental health.

The ANU regularly revises procedures aimed at keeping staff safe at work. Find the ANU Noise management Policy ANUP_000581 and further information in the WHS Management System Handbook.

This year, for me, it’s an opportunity to explain how Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) can also affect staff and students’ hearing. It’s a subtle form of hearing loss that most people don’t understand. Some small tweaks to work and teaching practice can help significantly.

Initially people think it’s because people with APD cannot hear, but in fact, they can hear quite well. Due to a disconnect in neural pathways however, their hearing reception is “garbled”. Talking louder does not help as it is not related to sound but an inability to translate sounds correctly, as this young person, Meg, explains in their video:

Symptoms people report include:

  • difficulty following speech in noisy environments
  • literacy, or general academic development concerns
  • difficulty following instructions
  • language and/or speech delays
  • difficulty concentrating or paying attention
  • poor memory skills, and more.

How might a staff or student be affected on campus?

People with hearing loss experience difficulties separating background noises to hear a conversation in a tutorial or to hear the lecturer above the whispering of other students or the clacking of keys on their keyboard. One of our ANU students with disability wrote about learning with APD last year in a blog post:

“I found online courses had much less noise than the in-person classes, especially during group discussions thanks to breakout rooms. Before Covid, group discussions were always hard because my brain cannot filter unnecessary noises. My hearing caught all voices in the classroom, and I could not focus on the discussion of my group.” Using Zoom, “I could also control the volume of the devices and could use my headphones to focus on the lectures and discussions.”

As a staff member with APD it’s a similar experience for me except I also have a sensitivity to noise as part of my autistic profile. So, whilst some people with APD may struggle to discern words accurately, I also cannot tolerate loud noises in venues such as in café settings, so I battle physically painful noise (to me) whilst trying to accurately pin down the right voice and decipher a comment. Meetings via Teams or Zoom are so much better than in real life because of this auditory processing. Even better is when people write down the key issues to be discussed, even if it is last minute in the Teams chat, so I can read what they are communicating accurately and focus properly. More tips.

What can I do to improve the staff and student experience?

  • Use a microphone when talking to students so that your voice stands out from the crowd and/or ask students to be quiet when you’re speaking so that everyone can hear equally whether through headphones remotely, or when they’re in the same room.
  • Consider an online tutorial group a necessary part of your teaching practice to include students with disabilities such as APD and who need breakout rooms in order to improve their hearing. As our student indicated, online tutorials are important for improving their rapport with peers.
  • Empathise with students who request audio recordings to be made available even after a live lecture. Accept that even if students were present, they may need to refer back to the recording to check details as they may not have captured all the details when listening. A transcript makes it even easier for this group of students to understand what was said and, most importantly, retain the information.
  • Use live/closed captions in your recordings. With the continued use of Microsoft Teams and Zoom for meetings, tutorials and discussions, the use of live captions can be a useful tool to assist staff and students with hearing loss. Further tips for accessible on-line meetings can be found here.
  • Ensure your teaching/meeting space has some form of hearing augmentation available if required by a student or staff member. A good explanation about the different hearing augmentation methods is provided in this video about Assistive Listening Systems.
  • Encourage others to learn about accessibility and what some aspects of disabled life can be like. For example, our ANU Medical School is encouraging students to be more accessible in their workplaces. Jason El Brihi’s undertook an Auslan Certificate 11+ at Weekend Retreat under the Medical Venture Fund offered by the ANU Medical School.

Staff lived experience of hearing loss and deafness at ANU

  • Read about College of Arts and Social Sciences student Josh Ophel’s study and how he was influenced by growing up as one of five children with deaf parents, as well as watch him communicate in his first language, Auslan.
  • Read Frieda Schimmelpfennig’s story and read her top tips for communicating with a hearing impaired person.

Additional resources

March 2022

Dr Scott Rickard is an ANU staff member with disabilities working in the Centre for Learning & Teaching and the Chair of the ANU Disability Action Plan Education Provider of Choice Action Group.
Her co-author is another ANU staff member with a hearing impairment.