With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to keep us physically apart a lot of the time, video conferencing is an important way for us to maintain our social bonds with loved ones and work colleagues and connect us to service providers such as our financial planners, accountants, and medical providers.
Video chats and virtual meetings are a convenient and (mostly!) easy way to meet with professional colleagues and friends and family. Why mostly? Sometimes audio quality can be unpredictable. Internet speed lapses can cause the audio and video to not match up, or people might be using devices that have poor sound quality. When these variables come into play, it can be hard to hear what’s being said – particularly if you have hearing loss.
The good news is, there are hearing assisted devices and technologies, as well as non-device strategies to make video calls as easy as they should be. Let’s take a look at some of them:
If you have hearing loss, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you have the right to ask your employer for needed work accommodations, such as Communication Access RealTime Translation (CART). CART is a service in which someone types a transcript of the video call in real-time.
Other automatic captioning options are available. Some smartphones offer speech-to-text apps or you can download apps for the hearing impaired—some for free—that have captioning functions. Several of the video conferencing platforms provide free auto-captioning, too, but automatic captioning may depend on the plan level being used (for example, a basic free plan in comparison to a paid business plan).
Given the poor audio quality of computers, taking off your hearing aids and turning up the volume on your computer’s speakers won’t improve your ability to hear what’s being said during video chats.
Besides, today’s hearing aids frequently are paired with smartphone apps that let you tailor your hearing experience. Such apps allow you to adjust the volume easily and select custom programming to get the best hearing experience from your video calls. Some hearing aid transmitters also make it easy to connect to audio systems and devices for better sound.
As mentioned already, computer speakers and microphones are notorious for their poor audio quality. Noise-cancelling headphones typically outperform your computer’s speakers and they direct the audio right into your ears.
Overall sound quality is enhanced if the other participants in your video chat are also using headphones and microphones rather than their computer’s microphone. Ask meeting leaders to ask participants to use headphones and microphones during the meeting rather than using their computer’s speaker and microphone setup.
Headphones cut back on echo and feedback and a headphone microphone or standalone microphone can be moved closer to the person’s mouth, eliminating the issue of a person being too far away from their computer microphone to be heard well.
Another tech tool that’s useful is a sound equalizer. Also called audio equalizers, these tools let you adjust sound coming out of your computer’s speakers and headphones when they’re connected to your computer. Some operating systems have a sound equalizer already installed, but they are also available as downloadable apps.
Prior to the video call meeting, ask for a written agenda for business meetings, and notes, if available, from whomever is the lead speaker for the meeting, which will make it easier to follow along. Also, in advance of the meeting, meeting leaders can tell all participants to set themselves up in a space where they can eliminate as much background noise as possible.
With a recording, you can go back and listen to the parts of the conversation that you didn’t hear well, or missed. If the recording is still hard to hear clearly, you can send the audio file to a transcription service for a written record of the meeting, or ask your employer to provide a transcription of the meeting.
Meeting leaders should start the video call by laying out the ground rules to make it easier for everyone to hear and be heard. Good communication ground rules include reminding people to talk one person at a time and to not engage in “side” conversations so cross-talk won’t make it harder to hear what you want to hear.
Meeting leaders can also put everyone on mute and utilize the chat box feature by asking participants to put their questions in the chat box or to request being unmuted to share what they have to say. Some video conferencing platforms have a “raise your hand” feature, which alerts meeting leaders when someone wants to speak.
Let people know up front that you have hearing loss or are wearing hearing aids and that you may need to ask people to repeat things. Even people who don’t have hearing loss or impairments sometimes have a hard time hearing during video conferences, so they’ll be understanding of your needs and supportive when you need to ask for a pause to change your hearing aid batteries or your hearing aid settings so that the sound isn’t too loud or too soft.
If you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable about asking for these accommodations for your video call, don’t stress. Remember that by asking everyone in the group to use video conferencing best practices, you’ll be doing everyone a favor—they’ll all be able to hear better. And to keep yourself prepared, stay up to date with regular aftercare appointments with your hearing care specialist.