Imagine attending a wedding and only hearing a small part of what is being said. You hear the other guests laughing during one of the speeches, but you’ve clearly missed the punchline. And worst of all, you can’t hear the happy couple reciting their vows. Unfortunately those problems are all too common for those with hearing loss.
Thirty-eight million Americans, or approximately 12 percent, have significant hearing loss. That means if you have a wedding with 250 guests, 30 of them will have at least a mild hearing loss. And for those guests, not being able to hear the vows, the speeches or participate in conversations can leave them feeling left out. So, with wedding season upon us, here’s how to make sure your guests with hearing loss have the same wedding experience as your other guests.
Sketch out a plan
So before you begin your planning, ask yourself a few questions. First, what is the severity of hearing loss that will need to be accommodated? A person with mild or moderate hearing loss will have very different needs than a person who is deaf or severely hearing impaired. If the guest is deaf or has profound hearing loss, know in advance if they use primarily sign language to communicate and provide an ASL translator for the event.
Talk to the venue owner
As with all aspects of wedding planning, you’ll want to think ahead. First, ask if the church or venue you have chosen has a loop system installed. A loop system helps those with hearing aids that are equipped with T-coils hear sounds from a PA system directly in the hearing aids while reducing background noise. And make sure to offer your guests with hearing loss reserved seating up front, as close to the celebrant as possible. If you have a seating chart for the reception, place those with hearing loss close to the main table instead of at the back of the room; they’ll thank you for it.
Provide wedding text for guests
Next, consider having the “speaking” portions of the wedding, such as the readings, vows and speeches, printed for those who request it. Like requesting the beef or chicken, give guests the option to notify you when they RSVP that they would like a printed copy of the proceedings made available. In addition, a printed itinerary of the wedding festivities can keep everyone on track and reduce confusion and misunderstandings.
Consider hiring a professional
For those guests who speak using ASL, hire a certified interpreter to sign either just the most important parts of the ceremony or the whole thing, depending on your budget. Or for those guests who don’t sign, consider having a CART professional to type out wedding events in real time. Short for Communication Access Realtime Translation, CART allows every word of your wedding, from the rehearsal dinner speeches to vows to the reception toasts, to be projected onto a screen. The National Court Reporters Association website offers an online directory of CART providers, so you can find one in your area.
Turn up the volume (but not too loud!)
Speak up when reciting your vows. It’s tempting to speak softly if you are nervous, but speaking loudly and clearly allows your guests with hearing loss to feel engaged in the ceremony. Also, let the celebrant know there will be people with hearing loss in attendance so she can take that into account when speaking.
Make your wedding reception hearing-friendly
Now, on to the reception. Tall centerpieces not only block conversation but the view as well, putting those who rely on lip reading at a disadvantage. Asking your florist for low centerpieces will make it easier for everyone around the table to participate in the conversation. Some alternatives to towering arrangements are low floral centerpieces that are easy to see over, tea lights, votive candles or low bowls with floating candles.
Also, make sure the venue has good lighting. Those who have hearing loss rely heavily on being able to see their conversation partner’s face, and a dimly lit room can lead to frustration.
When hiring a DJ, ask about captioning services or any other audio equipment he might be able to provide for those with hearing loss, such as a loop system. You may be lucky enough to locate a DJ who knows ASL; otherwise your sign language interpreter can provide those services. Also consider a karaoke machine with lyrics projected, which would allow all of the wedding guests to participate in the fun. Another idea is to print out the lyrics of first dance song, so those with hearing loss can follow along. Lastly, placing speakers on the ground allows guests with profound hearing loss to feel vibrations of the music, and it will be sure to get everyone in the room dancing.
And if you’ll soon be a wedding guest…
Maybe you don’t have to imagine what it’s like to be at a wedding, or any important event, and not be able to hear the most special sounds of the day because you’ve already experienced it. All of life’s big events deserved to be cherished. If you have hearing loss, don’t let another one of them go by without seeking help from an audiologist or hearing aid specialist. Find a hearing clinic near you and be ready for the next wedding or celebration with those you love.