Self-Advocacy

A Group AR program can go a long During the course of the Group AR program, you can help hearing impaired persons advocate for themselves on multiple levels:

  • Individual: requesting that someone change their conversational behavior or repeat a missed phrase when engaging in a one-on-one conversation

  • Community: requesting changes on how a meeting is run, requesting hearing assistance technology in a place of worship or a workplace

  • National: advocating for government policies to improve access to auditory messages in public spaces

Individual Level: Repair Conversation Breakdown

Before you discuss how members can advocate for their needs and interests on a community and national level, it is a good idea to discuss what they can do as individuals to work on their behalf. Kaplan, Bally and Garretson outline three steps one can take to repair a conversation breakdown: Courtesy, Explanation, and Direction.

Courtesy

When making a request to improve communication, a courteous request is more likely to result in a positive outcome than an abrupt or angry request.

Explanation

An individual will be more likely to respond to a request if they understand the problem. One can admit to having a hearing problem and explain the difficulty of the situation. Possible explanations could include:

  • "I have a hearing loss and I have difficulty understanding when I cannot see someone’s face."

  • "I wear hearing aids but I still have trouble understanding speech in noisy places."

Direction

People with hearing loss often cannot expect others to know how to repair a communication breakdown. Instead, group members should give clear suggestions to their communication partners.  Examples could include:

  • "Can you make sure that you are looking at me when you speak?  I can understand better when I see your face."

  • "Can we go into the hallway and see if it is quieter there? I really want to hear what you have to say."

Not as Simple as it Seems

These three steps seem simple, but performing them in real-life is actually complex. Group members need to learn how to generate solutions to communication problems at a moment's notice. Members also need to feel comfortable admitting their hearing loss to others. It is important to use group activities to increase the group's ability to employ these strategies.

Group Activities to Boost Self-Advocacy

One activity involves providing group members with a worksheet containing situations where communication breakdowns typically occur, such as restaurants, speaking with strangers, foreign accents etc. 

Then, in the group, participants can develop and offer different ways one can repair the breakdown. Once the group members have identified some strategies, participants can then role-play these different ideas, explaining their hearing loss and offering direction. With support from the group, participants who are dealing with similar issues may develop the courage to admit to their hearing problem in public.

It may take considerable time before participants are ready to implement these strategies in the real world. Remember to be patient and provide adequate time for practice in the group setting.

Community and National Level

Advocacy is also important at the local, regional and national levels. For example, emergency notification systems implemented by local communities should be accessible to those with hearing loss. 

You can introduce group members to local and national groups that advocate for these systems and services. One example in the United States is the Hearing loss Association of America.

Advocate for Assistive Technology

As part of your Group AR program, you will most likely provide members with information about hearing assistive technology. Assistive technology can help improve communication over the telephone, in large rooms and in public spaces.

These devices, though, cannot be used if they are not available! During the program, members can discuss and develop strategies to advocate for the placement of assistive devices in their community or their place of work. For example, how should an individual ask their employer to purchase a new phone with more amplification? How can one identify the assistive listening system in a place of worship, or raise funds to purchase and install such a system? Once a system is in place, how do you make it available to all who need it and encourage its use?  

Self Advoacy Training In Practice

Jill Preminger provides the group with a list of communication guidelines for communication partners. She asks the group to expand upon communication strategies they may already use. As group participants talk about their individual situations, other participants learn the importance of asking partners to take concrete steps to improve two-way communication.

Sam Trychin moderates a discussion about advocating for improved communication at the work place. He expresses the importance of self-advocacy with regards to self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.

Must Reads

H Kaplan, S Bally, and C Garretson. Speechreading: A way to improve understanding, Washinton DC:Gallaudet University Press, 1985.

Colorado Families for Hands & Voices. Self-advocacy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students  “What Parents Need to Know” series 2004.

Hearing Loss Association of America. Advocacy for People with Hearing Loss.