Few Canadians consider that as we age, we have a 25% chance of experiencing some form of hearing loss.
“Nearly one out of every four adult Canadians reports having some hearing loss,” says Michael Warburton, Director of Client Engagement for Canadian Hearing Services. “Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in older adults and the most widespread disability. According to Statistics Canada, more than one million adults across the country reported having a hearing-related disability. Other studies indicate that the true number may reach three million or more Canadian adults, as those suffering from hearing problems often under-report their condition.”
Barriers increasing during COVID-19
Warburton says that Canadians who are hearing impaired experience discrimination and a lack of accessibility. “Hard of hearing Canadians continue to experience discrimination in the workplace and when accessing vital services that most Canadians take for granted, such as education, services, employment, health care, and housing. Some barriers to accessibility include difficulty obtaining accommodations, such as interpreters, TTY (teletypewriters), and flashing alarms.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder for people with hearing issues to engage with their communities and go about their daily lives. “The issues related to COVID-19 are extensive,” says Warburton. “Counters with plexiglass barriers impact the travel of sound. Hard of hearing persons simply cannot hear what is being said and masks that cover the mouth make it impossible to read lips.”
Without assistive technology, people are often excluded, isolated, and locked into poverty, thereby increasing the impact of disease and disability on a person, their family, and society.
Warburton also notes that education has become significantly harder during the pandemic. “Deaf and hard of hearing students are expected to do much of their schooling from home, but unfortunately e-learning and online educational content wasn’t prepared with accessibility in mind. Special equipment is now required at the home to support hard of hearing and deaf students, captioning has to be added to educational content, and Sign Language services have to be brought in for deaf students. Right now, educational content is not there and this could negatively impact the progress of a particular student’s education.”
Assistive technology is a lifeline
Technology has had a profound impact on the way people with hearing impairments can engage with their communities and access services, says Warburton. “Assistive technologies enable people with accessibility challenges to live healthy, productive, independent, and dignified lives, and to participate in education, the labour market, and civic life. Assistive technology reduces the need for formal health and support services, long-term care, and the work of caregivers. Without assistive technology, people are often excluded, isolated, and locked into poverty, thereby increasing the impact of disease and disability on a person, their family, and society.”
Warburton emphasizes that corporations can play an important part in creating a more inclusive experience for people with hearing disabilities. For example, some businesses make use of a solution called VRI (Video Remote Interpreting), which allows a Canadian-based Sign Language Interpreter to connect virtually with staff and hearing-impaired clients within seconds. This service removes the historical challenge of scheduling an interpreter well ahead of time.
It’s crucial for businesses interested in incorporating assistive technology to get in touch directly with Canadian Hearing Services, says Warburton. “We have solutions to all accessibility challenges, many of which can be set up in short order, aren’t cumbersome, and will promote an inclusive environment for all.”