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How digital tools can help make comms more inclusive

3 September 2021

There are many ways you can make communication accessible. The main thing to remember is that everyone has their own preferences and needs, so it’s always important to ask the person what you can to do help.

At RNID we’re often asked the best ways to communicate with people who are deaf or have hearing loss. And the answer is there are many different things you can do to help; from making sure you have the right environment (good lighting and no background noise) to making simple changes such as facing the person when you talk. You can also use speech-to-text apps to transcribe what you say live on your phone, or good old-fashioned pen and paper (see our website for a full list). But one thing that hasn’t helped is the pandemic.

Adapting to new needs

Coronavirus has made existing communication difficulties even worse for the 1 in 5 adults in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss. Many don’t realise that face coverings have made lipreading impossible and with other measures such as social distancing and Perspex screens the sounds are muffled.

This combination has caused a lot of stress and anxiety for many people, making regular tasks such as doing the weekly shop or going to a medical appointment extremely difficult. We’ve heard of deaf people being shouted at in the supermarket for not following instructions which they couldn’t hear or feeling embarrassed at the till in front of a queue of shoppers when face coverings cause misunderstandings and miscommunication.

As a hearing loss charity, we received lots of messages at the start of the pandemic about the difficulties face coverings caused people who rely on lipreading. We acted quickly to secure an exemption in the law, so that anyone assisting someone who lip-reads doesn’t need to wear a face covering, but we also wanted to do more and as a result our digital communication card was born.

Developing a digital communication card to make individual needs clear to others

Our supporters told us they wanted something visual which they could use in a public place to show staff that they couldn’t hear and highlight how to make communication easier.

This led to the creation of RNID’s digital communication card, a personalised downloadable card which anyone who needs can use to show people how they can make communication more accessible for their personal needs. The card includes a photo, three statements that best describe the card holder, and their top three communication needs.

To create a card, it’s as simple as visiting our website and picking the required options from a drop down list. Options are wide ranging, from ‘I am deaf’ or ‘I have hearing loss’ to ‘British Sign Language User’, with a free text option.

We used an external agency to produce the card, with a quick turnaround of four weeks so we could launch it during Deaf Awareness Week. We narrowed down the questions, deciding to ask just two to focus on the person’s communication needs and the steps someone can take to make communication accessible. We developed the questions alongside our internal audiologist, and our deaf awareness group, which includes people who are deaf, have hearing loss, use cochlear implants and hearing aids.

Acknowledging individual communication needs

The great thing about the communication card is it’s so personal. Hearing loss, and any other disability, isn’t a one size fits all approach. What works for someone may not work for someone else. For example, one person may ask you to write something down, whereas someone else may prefer you to rephrase the sentence to help them understand. A sign language user may ask you to book a sign language interpreter to help them communicate, whilst someone who lipreads may ask that you face them.

Enabling conversations around communications needs to flourish

When the communication card launched in May 2021, fronted by our ambassador Samantha Baines, our target for the first month was 1,500 cards. In the first week alone, we had already surpassed that with more than 2,000 people downloading digital communication cards! Today, more than 4,100 people have downloaded a card and we continue to get over 100 downloads a week.

Our communication card has enabled 4,000 people to get the general public thinking and talking about deaf awareness every time they go to the shops, or the bank, or the post office. There have also been many stories on social media of how the card has helped someone at a hospital appointment, or when getting their covid vaccination. People are sharing their communication cards with family and friends, and on social media using #BeDeafAware.

Harnessing the power of digital to help people communicate their comms needs

The communication card is part of RNID’s new digital approach, in order to make life more inclusive for the 1 in 5 people in the UK with hearing loss. We’ve also launched a new three minute online hearing check, and we’ve encouraged supporters to share their experiences of communicating in the pandemic with their local newspapers through our retail campaign.

Using digital tools has helped us reach a far bigger audience; we now have 4,000 new brand ambassadors through our communication card, who are sharing their experiences across the UK. People connect with people, and those real stories are essential for highlighting the difficulties that people who are deaf or have hearing loss have faced over the last year, and how small steps can make a big difference.

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Image: Pixabay on Pexels

Clare Bowdler

marketing coordinator , RNID

Clare is a marketing coordinator at RNID with experience of hearing loss. She worked directly on the unique digital communication card that has been developed by RNID, the national charity making life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus, to help supporters advocate for their communication needs. An experienced marketing professional Clare is also a clear and concise communicator with a can-do attitude.