For the 11 million people in the UK with hearing loss, attending meetings and events can be a stressful and frustrating experience.

Common issues such as poor acoustics, a presenter who is hard to understand and background noise can all act as barriers to participation.

Soon that might all change thanks to a new guide for organisers and speakers that explains how to make meetings and events more accessible for everyone.

The UK’s first Hearing Access Protocol will be launched on Thursday 2 August at Go Live at the Green by Dunblane based social enterprise Ideas for Ears. It identifies the good practices that everyone can benefit from regardless of their hearing abilities, as well as specific adjustments that some people with hearing loss may require.

One sixth of the UK population has hearing loss of some degree. Commenting on the scale of the issue Sally Shaw, Director of Ideas for Ears, said: “The number of people with hearing loss in the UK is growing as the population ages. We’re also seeing an increase in the number of younger people with hearing loss due to noisy lifestyle choices.

“Despite how common hearing loss is, little attention is paid as to how people will hear and follow things in meetings and events. It means that many individuals are having poor experiences and being placed in situations that are frustrating and stressful. If you cannot properly follow the proceedings, it’s difficult or impossible to contribute, which makes it pointless attending in the first place. This undermines the value and purpose of meetings and events, especially those that are about public consultation and community engagement.”

Ideas for Ears hopes the protocol will be adopted across the UK as good practice for all meetings and events, bringing about substantial change for the millions with hearing loss.

Sally added: “There is a huge variation in the way people hear and this needs to be recognised and responded to. There is no single adjustment that can be made that will adequately meet the needs of all, but it isn’t as complicated as it may seem. The Hearing Access Protocol sets things out in a clear and practical way, covering everything from speaking clearly and facing the audience, to hearing loops and support from BSL/English interpreters.”

The protocol has been welcomed by the Health & Social Care Alliance Scotlanddeafscotland (formerly Scottish Council on Deafness), and Disability Equality Scotland.

Janis McDonald, Chief Officer of deafscotland, said: “Businesses and organisations often fail to have even basic procedures in place for providing essential adjustments for people with hearing loss. There needs to be much wider and better awareness of hearing and deafness issues. There also needs to be much fuller compliancy with equality and human rights legislation, because far too many people with access requirements related to their hearing ability are being excluded. The Hearing Access Protocol provides guidance that will help businesses and organisations to deliver what people want and need.”

The idea for the protocol came from a community ‘hearing hub’ group in Stirling, which meets regularly to talk about the challenges and solutions for hearing loss.

Alan Blue, one of the hub members, said: “As someone who has hearing difficulties, I have experienced first-hand how it feels not to be able to follow a meeting because I have missed what someone said. What started as a chat with Sally at Ideas for Ears over a coffee a couple of years ago, led us to create a local hearing hub to address these issues and ultimately to help develop the protocol that we are launching today. We hope the guide will transform standards everywhere and bring real benefits to the millions of people with hearing loss living in the UK.”

The Hearing Access Protocol will be launched within Volunteer Scotland’s Community Bubble tent on Glasgow Green on Thursday 2 August at 10.30am.

George Thomson, Chief Executive of Volunteer Scotland said: “The Hearing Access Protocol evolved out of a small, local group sharing the common experiences they have with hearing loss.  It’s a great demonstration of what can happen when people get together to solve big issues around inclusion and participation. We are delighted to be one of the first organisations to start implementing the protocol. We’ve already used the guide to improve standards at our Stirling HQ from replacing the hearing loop in our main meeting room and installing noise absorbing panels, to creating new procedures around microphone use and room lay-out.”

The full protocol can be found here.