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My hearing accessibility needs as a voter and museumgoer

Sound Advice by Advocate Ruth D. Bernstein

Ruth Bernstein, Consumer Advocate

Ruth Bernstein, Consumer Advocate

One of the challenges of having a hearing loss is you can’t always anticipate the situations where you may need help and the kind of help you want in advance. I’m fortunate because I’ve learned how to ask for help and do so all the time.

On the morning of Halloween, 2016, my friend Wendy and I met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I volunteer on alternate Thursdays, distributing and collecting equipment at their hearing accessible gallery tours.

We were seeing the stunning Jerusalem exhibition, a show Philipe DeMontebello, the former Director of the Met, recommended be seen more than once.

This was Wendy’s first visit and my second. On my first visit to a Met blockbuster, I prefer to walk through the galleries, taking note of the displays but not studying them in depth. On future visits, I like to use the audio guide with a neckloop and/or a script of the audio guide.

When we arrived at the Audio Guide desk, just inside the entrance to the gallery,  Wendy chose not to use the device. I tried the headphones but couldn’t hear so I asked for a neckloop. The young man at the desk did not know what I was asking for. I’ve been volunteering at the Met for almost 15 years (lucky me!) and have contact information for several staff members on my iPhone. I promptly sent out an S.O.S. to my supervisors, asking them to send up some neckloops.

I told the young man at the desk I would be back in twenty minutes. He looked a bit bemused and said “OK” (those volunteers!). When I returned after the allotted time, he smiled and pulled a plastic pouch with several neckloops out of a drawer. I  showed him how to plug the neckloop into an audio guide, explained how they work with my hearing aids, turned my t-switches on, increased the volume, and went my happy way, able to hear the in depth explanations of the items on the guide.

Wendy and I decided to have lunch after we had seen about a third of the show because we were both overwhelmed by the history, beauty and excitement of the items we had seen. We plan to go back soon. I promptly thanked my supervisors for their help. Rebecca McGinnis, the Met’s Senior Museum Educator, Access and Community Programs, contacted Antenna, the Met’s audio-guide supplier. They have an office in the basement of the museum and sent someone up with the neckloops.

If you ask for a neckloop and none is available, Ms. McGinnis recommended you ask the person at the desk to call the Antenna office and have some sent up. I suggested the Met place hearing-accessible logos at their Audio Guide desks. That way, people with hearing loss will know the equipment is available. I’m working on finding out how to request a script.

After lunch, I went downtown to the New York City Board of Elections office. The absentee ballot I requested because I’m going to be in Austin, Texas on Election Day, had not arrived, and I was nervous because I wanted to be sure I voted before I left town.  When I checked the Board’s web site, I learned I could vote in person at their Manhattan office. I was surprised and delighted to learn this was possible and decided to take advantage of the service.

When I arrived, there were a lot of people waiting. It turns out early voting is popular in the city. Happily, I got a seat right next to the desk where the ballots were being handed out. The young man who was distributing the ballots called out names. I knew that was going to be a problem for me. I spoke to clerk at the adjacent desk and explained why I needed help. She notified the young man.  When he came to my name an hour later, I had already identified myself to him and was standing at his desk. He gave me the ballot, I filled it out, left it with him and headed home. My Halloween treat, the absentee ballot, was waiting for me when I opened my mail box!

As I stated earlier, I’m fortunate because I know how to ask for help and do so all the time.

Thanks to Dr. Lafargue, my CHC audiologist, I have t-switches in my hearing aids and use neckloops and assistive listening devices. I’m also an active member of the Hearing Loss Association of America, NYC Chapter. If you want to learn more about hearing aid t-switches and assistive devices, make an appointment for a  free demonstration at CHC.

Come to HLAA NYC Chapter meetings to learn how to cope with your  hearing loss and ask for what you need. Check the web site for a schedule of our meetings

Best wishes,

Ruth D. Bernstein, Consumer Advocate

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