In my last blog entry, I talked about giving a math colloquium talk. In this one, I’ll talk about attending a talk. This academic year, I have sat in three computer science talks and four other math talks.

And so far, I’ve been somewhat disappointed.

My accommodation for these talks is to use the SmartLink+ FM system owned by Williams College. During each talk, I arrive about five to ten minutes early to meet the speaker and hand over the device so that he or she can wear it. (It’s designed like a lanyard.) However, even with this as an aid, I feel like I don’t get much benefit out of these talks. I think I run into two problems: (1) getting distracted by the speaker wearing the FM system, and (2) getting distracted by the static.

Problem (1) is a mental issue. Sometimes I feel like a burden to the speaker when asking him or her to wear a device that, while not clunky or huge, is still noticeable, can swing around as he or she is moving, and isn’t designed for pure comfort. I also wonder what the other audience members think of the device. Is it distracting to them as well? Do they know that the FM is for me? When I have these thoughts, I also ponder alternative scenarios for accommodations.

Problem (2) is a technical issue. It’s well known that FM systems are great at amplifying sound, and I’m happy to benefit from that. The amplification, though, seems to result in a lot of static as an unfortunate side effect. When a speaker wears the FM system, it can rub against a shirt as he or she moves, and I hear a lot of rustling and static when that happens. In fact, at one point last spring in a machine learning tutorial meeting, I had to completely turn off my right hearing aid since the static had become unbearable. Complicating matters here is that the hearing aids I use that have the FM receivers (i.e. what I need to connect to the system) are not the same as my best pair of hearing aids, which are better at discriminating sound. Do I want to lose out on intensity to retain clarity and precision?

So these two things together seem to hinder my ability to benefit from colloquium talks. In fact, my lackluster experience during today’s computer science colloquium talk inspired me to write this entry. As I allude in the title, I’m thinking about how to accommodate a technical talk for a deaf person.

Here are some hypothetical scenarios I have in mind:

  1. Use the Smartlink+ FM System (i.e. maintain what I’m doing). Advantages: continuity, don’t have to make petitions or write more letters. Disadvantages: covered earlier in this entry.
  2. Use an alternative FM System (e.g., the Contego R900). Advantages: possibly experience less static but retain amplification. Disadvantages: would have to get used to an entirely new system.
  3. Use ASL interpreting services (as I do in my courses). Advantages: familiarity/continuity. Disadvantages: difficult to interpret technical talks.
  4. Use a captioning service (e.g., CART). Advantages: can read word-for-word on a screen. Disadvantages: would take several weeks to get set up, and would probably run into technical difficulties.
  5. Use a combination of the above accommodations. Advantages: can combine the benefits together. Disadvantages: costly, would experience diminishing returns for each addition.
  6. Use no accommodations. Advantages: easiest for me, allowing me to show up at the same time as other students. Disadvantages: will have the least amount of hearing assistance.

As one can see, there’s no substitute to having normal hearing. Different forms of accommodations have their pluses and minuses, and it’s up to the individual and his or her institution to come up with a reasonable plan. I’m still not entirely sure what’s best for me, but hopefully I can come up with some firm decision soon.