Four strategies for people with vision or hearing issues that help everyone

When we provide faculty training for the Center on Aging @ AACC, we always talk about making classroom adjustments for vision and hearing losses. With more than 4,000 students over the age of 60, almost everyone will be experiencing some decline in hearing, vision, or both.

As I look at our recommendations, one thing we need to think about is that all of these strategies not only help those with hearing or vision declines, they actually are helpful to everyone.

Here are a few of our recommended strategies that every student will likely find helpful. 

 Bigger fonts on PowerPoint presentations. How often have you heard “I know you can’t read this, but…” This always makes me wonder why the text is up there if the audience can’t see it. We recommend using nothing smaller than 30 point font. Whether the student is 18 or 78, who doesn’t appreciate a large, clear font that is easy to read? The truth is that everyone does.

Speaking clearly, and facing the audience. It is difficult enough to hear someone who is looking down at their notes the entire time, it is even worse when the person turns their back on the class and begins reading their slides. Powerpoint slides are not speaker notes. Again, this is not just about people with hearing loss, this is helpful for everyone.

Stop the “I don’t need a microphone” people. I can’t help but cringe and scowl when someone stands up to ask a question or make a comment in a 300 seat auditorium and says “Oh, I don’t need a microphone.” I don’t know whether this is hubris or whether the person is scared of the microphone, but whoever is talking on stage needs to stop them cold. If there is a microphone available, everyone should use it. Period. We all appreciate being able to clearly hear what is being said, whether a hearing loss is involved or not.

Make handouts more readable. Microsoft Word 2013 defaults to Calabri 11 point type. In my opinion, this is probably too small for people with any kind of vision issue. Numerous studies suggest that larger font helps with reading comprehension, and of course we all appreciate how larger font reduces eye strain over the course of a day. I typically use 13 or 14 point font text in my own handouts.

A principle to consider is that when we design documents, or teaching, or other environments with consideration of those with physical limitations, we are really improving the environment for everyone.

Disability Must be Part of Diversity Initiatives

If you work for a college, government agency, or large corporation, it is likely there is some type of diversity initiative or program. In my own experience, I have seen very little mention of disabilities as a diversity issue. This is a serious oversight.

It is important for those of us who are informed about disability issues either personally or professionally to take steps to correct this. Sometimes we wait for some distant advocacy group to do this, or some professional who manages diversity efforts. Neither of these will be effective in changing things where you work.

So, we all need to take two steps. First of all, you should write an email to your supervisor and politely express how important it is to you to have disabilities represented in diversity initiatives. Secondly, find out who leads the diversity efforts where you work and ask them to include disabilities as part of the diversity program.

In my opinion, this is the best way to raise awareness of disabilities, and ensure it continues to be part of the conversation. Diversity outreach, training and hiring efforts receive a lot of attention and support, all of which could benefit people with disabilities and their families.

Repost from May 20, 2010