D/deaf awareness on Zoom and other online platforms

Zoom image

16 September 2020

A Guide to Best Practice
By Owen Power
Liberal Judaism Officer with responsibility for inclusion & social justice

Despite the sheer awfulness of Covid-19, with all its worries and uncertainties, Liberal Judaism’s response has been positive, productive and innovative. It has brought us closer together in so many ways as we cautiously adapt to life online.

There is no doubt that Biennial 2020 was inspirational. It opened doors, hearts and minds to new ideas and forged new connections and relationships within the wider Liberal community.

Suddenly we are spoilt for choice with a range of Shabbat service themes, from rock to LGBTQ+ Pride, and everything in between! Synagogue services, council and community meetings and other events are now more accessible and inclusive like never before. People living with physical or mental health issues, people living a long distance from a Liberal community and people not affiliated to any community now have the option to dip-in and have a look without pressure from anyone chasing them to ‘sign-up’.

Zoom, Microsoft Team, Google Meet and other platforms are a gift but like the best gifts we need to be mindful we use them effectively to get the best results. The purpose of this Guide to Best Practice is to encourage Liberal Judaism community leaders to take the lead in promoting D/deaf awareness good practice online to the wider Liberal family.

Hearing loss is common, it affects twelve million people in the UK. One in six people is deaf or has a hearing loss, that is quite a lot of people! Be mindful there is still a stigma or shame attached to D/deafness which is sometimes in the mind of the person who is D/deaf and as a result they will not say they have difficulty hearing.

There is no doubt Liberal Judaism and its communities have a strong commitment to inclusion, however some members might be unaware when they participate on Zoom badly positioned lighting will make it difficult for other participants to see their face clearly and as a result D/deaf people will be unable to lip-read and hear what they are saying.

It is helpful to be aware what action needs to be taken to ensure when we participate in a meeting online, we can be heard and understood by everyone.

To be accessible to a D/deaf person your face needs to be clearly seen to enable them to lip-read and interpret your facial expression including your eyes, this is crucial.

You (head and shoulders) should take up no more or no less than one-third of the screen with the top of your head near the top of the screen. Sit so you are in the centre of the screen. If you sit too far to the left, your face will be partially hidden by the other screens if the viewer is using ‘Active Speaker View’.

‘Active Speaker View’ switches the large video window between who is speaking with three or more participants in the meeting. This is the format many D/deaf people use rather than ‘Gallery View’ in order to be able to see the speaker’s face clearly to lip-read.

It helps not to speak too fast and not try to set out too many ideas at once. ‘Listening’ is hard work for a D/deaf person, it requires total concentration which does not allow for multitasking online and ‘listen’ at the same time. It is a good plan to decide in advance of a meeting where you will locate yourself considering lighting, background and what you plan to wear.

Avoid sitting with your back to a window and avoid sunlight otherwise you will look like an apparition. Place yourself in a well-lit space with your laptop or device on a firm surface to avoid a wobbling screen. Look directly at the centre of the screen, do not look up or do not look down. Speak to the microphone as closely as possible. Think about what you are wearing, someone wearing a white shirt in front of a plain white/magnolia wall will not work well.

It is not vain to have a Zoom training session with yourself by setting up a meeting and trying out different spaces at home to see what works well. Of course it might not always be possible to plan in advance where to locate your PC for a meeting if you are at work or away from home.

For some choice of space depends on who is at home at the time especially when there are little people in the equation.

Be aware Google Meet and Microsoft Teams have the option of captions/subtitles which is helpful, but the voice recognition software that enables subtitles is only effective if the speaker speaks clearly. Apparently Zoom plans to offer the option of captions in the future.

When possible make sure you have a strong internet connection, distortions and delays make you and everyone else feel anxious and isolated, a weak connection causes stress and fatigue and does not lend itself for ease of engagement.

I am D/deaf and passionate about inclusion but have no wish to harangue and certainly not replace one discrimination with another by making anyone feel uncomfortable on Zoom.

Not everyone aspires to be a Zoom media star! Some people are quiet, reserved, shy and dislike fuss. Some are new to Zoom and are still feeling their way around and learning how it works and I certainly have no wish to put pressure on any of them. ‘Zoom fright’ is a thing as I discovered recently when, at a Liberal Judaism Community Briefing, I was asked to introduce myself and for a spilt second my mind went blank.

So, relax, follow the advice on lighting and speak directly to the microphone and look straight at the centre of your screen, be yourself, do not shout, and you will soon be an effective Zoom communicator!

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