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Accommodating Hearing Loss in Houses of Worship
“The church was a huge echo chamber I was trapped inside… I was bombarded by noise all around me- by muffled and distorted echoes, rumbles of clatter. My hearing aids only made them louder and more piercing. By the time the service was over, I had a splitting headache.”– Michael Harvey, Listen with the Heart
Knowing the Facts:
- Social Isolation is one of the most common and damaging results of hearing loss. Hard of hearing individuals frequently report feelings of stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. As a result many withdraw from meaningful, rewarding social activities – such as religious participation – that have now become difficult, upsetting, or even impossible to enjoy.
- Spirituality is a personal and shared experience. Houses of worship can provide an invaluable sense of community, comfort, support, and spiritual growth for all members, but can be of particular value for those struggling with disabilities.
- Religious participation is 3 times as likely to decline among hearing-impaired adults. The 2012 study in Age and Ageing found that overall, hearing-impaired adults “had a 3-fold higher risk of developing social and emotional deficits in everyday life” (Gopinath et al.).
Having amplification or a listening system is not enough to include hard of hearing people in activities of the congregation. The system has to be in good repair and people have to be educated about its existence and how to use it. It is important to realize that most people lose their hearing gradually and may not know that they have hearing loss or how best to use assistive listening devices.
Knowing the Benefits:
Are you aware of how many members of your congregation could benefit from assistive listening systems?
How many wheelchairs does it take to justify a ramp?
What about people who don’t realize how much they would benefit from an assistive listening system but would try one if it were provided?
What about people who no longer attend services because they were unable to hear?
How about visitors at weddings or funerals?
(Reprinted with permission from Rochester HLAA)
What else can you do?
While a listening system is an invaluable addition to your house of worship, there are many general tips to incorporate to ensure inclusive, rewarding communication with not only hard of hearing individuals, but your faith community at large.
- Face the listener directly
- Speak clearly and slowly
- Repeat or rephrase if necessary
- Avoid obstructing the mouth when speaking
- Ask how you can help to facilitate conversation
- Ensure the space is well-lit
- Limit background noise
- Make appropriate seating arrangements (ex.designated rows in the front)
- Evaluate the buildings acoustics
“Once a month our support group of late-deafened adults meets to share our feelings and experiences… I ask each participant, ‘Please tell us what has helped you the most since you became deafened?… Many tell us that their greatest help came from their spiritual beliefs. They receive comfort, peace, and strength from prayer and meditation. Some people who have become deeply depressed, even suicidal, say that the nadir of their despair they were uplifted and restored by their faith in a higher power that heard their prayers, loved them, and was watching over them.” – Bena Shuster, Life after Deafness