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Making a graduation accessible to people with hearing loss

Sound Advice by Ruth Bernstein

I have the good fortune of having four special grandchildren, which means I get to attend lots of joyous family occasions. As someone with a profound hearing loss, I need to arrange hearing accessibility at those events as much in advance as possible, that’s why my grandson Aaron and I teamed up to make sure I would be able to hear and understand the proceedings at his graduation from Babson College, a small, well-regarded business school outside of Boston, MA.

Aaron went to Babson on a partial scholarship, going to school and working on campus. He studied in Hong Kong for half his junior year, and went to Tanzania for two weeks in his senior year to help teach English to a group of young children. Needless to say, I’m very proud of what he accomplished!

Accessibility ball gets rolling

During our pre-senior-year lunch date in early September, 2013, Aaron told me graduation was scheduled for May 17, 2014. He gave me the name and contact information for Babson’s Disability Coordinator and informed me the school was very good about arranging for the needs of students and guests with disabilities. I decided to wait a few weeks until after the semester was in full swing to contact the Disability Coordinator.

The process began with a flurry of emails, first to the helpful Boston Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, to get names of local captioners and then to transmit that list and a detailed email describing my needs, including CART and an assistive listening system. I was assured I would have the accessibility I required. We agreed to be in touch again at the beginning of March, when plans for commencement were being finalized.

March arrived and the emails started flying again. I was connected to the AV person who arranged to plug my FM into the audio system (no problem), and was given the name of the woman who would be doing CART for me. Much to my distress, CART was not going to be projected for the entire audience. It was an exclusive service, just for me. Despite my sharing hearing loss statistics and pointing out at least one-third of the audience would probably be over 65, have some degree of hearing loss and would really appreciate the captions, I was not able to breach the wall of resistance.

Accommodations trump hearing loss on the big day!

Graduation day dawned sunny and bright after a torrential downpour the night before, which left the ground around the tent set up for 4000 people full of muddy puddles. Staff was busy filling in the holes with turf as the proud families arrived. My son and daughter-in-law were seated with the general audience. The captioner was at her station and Isaac, Aaron’s older brother, and I were seated in the front row reserved for disabled attendees (two to a graduate). We had an excellent view of the podium.

Although I didn’t miss a word because of CART and a good AV system, (I didn’t need my FM), I was distressed because other members of the audience could not take advantage of the captioning. My mistake was not to take the matter to the President of the college who could have authorized CART on the two jumbo screens at either side of the stage. Lesson learned!

My granddaughter Rebecca graduates from Penn State in May, 2015. I’m going to go to the top if I have to, to make her graduation hearing accessible.

P.S. Aaron is working at a new, small firm in New Haven, dealing in trust funds.

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