Berkeley Lab

Six Tips for Making Meetings More Accessible to All

Photo: Harland Quarrington/MOD [OGL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Hosting meetings more accessible to hearing-impaired people make meetings more accessible to everyone. Lab employee Deb Andrews offers tips backed up by some personal experiences.

by Deb Andrews

Over the past few years, I have experienced accelerated hearing loss due to an autoimmune disease.  My doctors do not feel that the type of hearing loss I am experiencing would be helped with hearing assistive technology, and for the most part, I am able to function fully with a few workarounds.

Before my own experiences, I had no idea how difficult work situations, especially meetings and large group presentations, can be for those who have even moderate hearing loss.

I am sharing a few suggestions from the Hearing Loss Association of America for hosts to consider when planning meetings and group presentations, which make perfect sense to me now that I have first-hand (ear?) experience struggling to hear.

Create a Safe Space for Requests

I accept that it is my responsibility to ask for what I need. Having said that, as someone who is naturally more comfortable behind the scenes, it’s hard to approach a presenter and ask them to make adjustments on my behalf. If you’re planning a larger event, you might consider asking if anyone needs accommodations when sending invites, which can help create a more approachable space for attendees to make requests.

Use Notes/Handouts/Captions

Scripting your presentation and making it available as a handout is another great way to ensure those who have difficulty hearing can stay with you. If you do provide handouts, you might want to point out physically where you are at times to ensure your attendees are keeping pace.

Face the Audience

Lip reading and using face/body cues are very common strategies for coping with hearing difficulties. To help lip-reading attendees follow along with you, try to avoid speaking in the direction of the screen, which puts viewers at your back, or covering your mouth with hands or microphone. When possible, if you’re having a conference call, consider using web-based video services or on-screen closed captioning capabilities. Dim lighting helps attendees see the screen but may make it difficult for lip readers to follow along; adequate lighting can help attendees keep their eyes front and centered on you.

Speak into the Mic

When you’re in a larger space, using a microphone will help with projection and clarity. If you do opt for the microphone, make sure the microphone travels with you. I attended one meeting where the presenter held the microphone in front of her and swiveled her head to maintain eye contact with the crowd, never moving the microphone; I heard about two-thirds of the presentation! If someone asks a question without a microphone, it’s helpful to repeat the question so that everyone can hear it before you answer.

Speak Clearly

Speaking in a modulated, clear tone takes some practice. You may begin by stating something firmly, but the supporting sentences may come out in a rush, or in a lower, almost mumbled tone. It is difficult to lip read fast-talkers, and it is difficult to use context as a tool when everything blurs together. “I can take it there” sounds very similar to “I can’t take it there” when you are speaking too quickly.

Minimize Ambient Noise

Noise is my biggest challenge in meetings. If more than one person is speaking, whispering or having side conversations during a meeting, or if there is background noise like a loud fan or copier, all of the sound blends together and I can’t hear anything with clarity. As a host, you can try to minimize environmental noise and facilitate the meeting to reduce side conversations. If you’re hosting a conference call, be aware that rustling papers and tapping near a microphone will be very loud to callers.

These tips gave me some strategies to cope with my hearing difficulty, and I hope that you find them just as valuable!

Deb Andrews is a program manager and business process manager in human resources.

Additional Life-Saving Measures Provided During the Great Shake Out

photo of emergency whistle attached to keychain

All Access Employe Resource Group helped distribute emergency whistles during the “Great Shakeout” drill Oct. 20.

During the Lab’s Great Shake Out Drill on October 20, Protective Services and the All Access Employee Resource Group collaborated to provide additional resources for all employees, including those with disabilities.

Potentially life-saving whistles were distributed with the message, “If you can be heard, you can be rescued.” Also, employees were reminded that it is always a good idea to arrange a personal support group with a few trusted colleagues; personnel who are aware of medical conditions, limitations, or just your general whereabouts and well-being.

Employees who may need extra assistance in an emergency are also encouraged to self-identify by emailing to allow support needs for issues with panic, mobility, vision, hearing, etc. The information will only be shared if approved by the employee.






On a Roll: One Scientist’s Tales of Plowing through Barriers to Accessibility

photo of Dr. Jeanine Cook

Who: Dr. Jeanine Cook
What: A frank (and funny) conversation about living with disability in a mostly inaccessible world
When: 12-1 p.m., Monday, Oct. 24
Where: Building 59, Room 3101 (Wang Hall)

Dr. Jeanine Cook has been on a roll since she broke her back in a car accident 33 years ago. A respected member of Sandia National Lab’s Scalable Architectures Group, Dr. Cook earned her Ph.D. in computer science and became a professor at New Mexico State University for a decade before joining Sandia. In 2008, she received a Presidential Early Career Award at the White House and she regularly makes time to help mentor students and early career professionals. Along her path, she encounters a number of obstacles and insults that able-bodied folks rarely know exist, much less think about.

On Monday, Oct. 24,  Berkeley Lab’s Disability Inclusion Employee Resource Group will present a conversation between Dr. Cook and Jon Bashor of Computing Sciences as part of Berkeley Lab’s Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. An engaging and humorous speaker, Dr. Cook will discuss how one determined woman does her best to plow through obstacles, both accidental and intentional, and how everyone can help each other. Topics may include:

  • Allegedly ADA-compliant hotel rooms
  • Stinky, messy handicapped stalls
  • TSA Trials and Tribulations
  • Why disabled facilities are often in the worst locations
  • Why 88 percent of disabled people stay home and eat bon-bons

And she’ll candidly answer all of your questions.

Please join us at noon on Oct. 24 in the Building 59 Main Conference Room (3101) for what promises to be a fun, free-ranging and educational conversation.

Disability Shorts Featured in TABL

October is Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.  To celebrate, the All Access employee resource group has not only  launched this new web site, but is sponsoring showings of a ground-breaking documentary about the disability rights movement, as well as a series of disability awareness videos. Today at Berkeley Lab (TABL) will feature these videos each Wednesday in October. You can get a sneak peak by watching them right here.

This trailer for the 2016 Paralympics features the talent of 140 athletes, musicians and ordinary people with disabilities and aims to change attitudes about disability. Watch these superhumans respond to misconceptions that they cannot participate in sports, business, music, parenting and more with a resounding, “Yes I Can!”

In this video short, disability awareness author and speaker Gary Karp raises awareness of invisible disability in the workplace. The term invisible disabilities refers to symptoms or impairments that are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.

This video answers questions about animals that perform a task or tasks for a person with a disability to help overcome limitations resulting from the disability. Other service animal etiquette tips: address the person, not the animal; service animals are working and are not pets; and please do not touch, pet, or feed treats to a service animal without the owner’s permission.

This video short from the Campaign for Disability Employment reminds us to capitalize on the talents of people with disabilities. The Campaign for Disability Employment is a collaborative effort to promote positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities by encouraging everyone to recognize the value and talent they bring to the workplace.

Lab’s Disability Inclusion Group to Sponsor October Showings of Documentary on Disabled Rights Movement

Disability rights activists protest, holding signs and an American flag the stars of which are rearranged into a wheelchair accessible symbol.

All Access, Berkeley Lab’s Disability Inclusion Employee Resource Group, is sponsoring multiple showings of the documentary “Lives Worth Living” as part of Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month in October.

“Lives Worth Living” traces the development of consciousness of these pioneers who realized that in order to change the world they needed to work together. Through demonstrations and inside legislative battles, the disability rights community secured equal civil rights for all people with disabilities. Thanks to their efforts, tens of millions of people’s lives have been changed.

Poster showing photo of disability rights protestors with text description of the movie plus dates and times for film showings.

Help us spread the word! Download the poster and hang it in your area.

The film will be shown on

  • Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 12 noon at JBEI, Rooms 4132 & 4134, in Emeryville
  • Thursday, Oct. 6, at 12 noon in the Bldg. 50 auditorium
  • Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 12 noon in the Bldg. 66 auditorium, and
  • Friday, Oct. 21, at 12 noon at Bldg. 971 (OFCO) in Emeryville.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 12:30 p.m. at JGI, room 149, in Walnut Creek

Members of All Access will attend each showing to answer questions about the group and how lab employees can help make our lab more accessible for all.