Physical distancing and face masks can make teaching training classes more challenging when working with all clients, but this is especially true when working with clients who are deaf or hard of hearing. Trainers need to make a special effort to facilitate communication, while still taking necessary safety precautions. Below are a few strategies that can help.
- Working with deaf or hard of hearing clients in virtual training:
- Make sure you have adequate lighting.
- Keep groups small when possible.
- Have people raise their hand before asking questions.
- Consider recruiting a helper to provide closed captioning.
- Use a visual signal when you mark behavior with a “yes” or “click” in training demonstrations, for example by raising your hand.
- For training video, take full advantage of captioning features. With YouTube, for example, while it will offer automatic closed captioning, take the time to edit the captioning to fix any errors and to add in markers for training, which are often missed by the automatic system.
- Working with deaf or hard of hearing clients in in-person training:
- Masks can muffle speech and make lip-reading impossible. Use meaningful gestures and visual aids. For instance, write on a white board and provide handouts the client can follow along with during the lesson.
- Use technology such as a mini-microphone to help, or share information on captioning apps for cell phones with your client.
- If public guidance allows and it is safe to do so, a face shield or transparent mask may facilitate communication. The Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center has instructions online on how to make an accessible, deaf-friendly face mask.
- Learn some basic American Sign Language; even just learning the alphabet for finger spelling can help.
With some simple accommodations, you can make training more accessible for your clients who are deaf or hard of hearing, so they can move forward with training their dogs even in these challenging times. A win for the trainer, the client and the dog!