Creating a hearing loss friendly wedding

Contributed by | Monday, June 1st, 2015

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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 don’t know what was funny because you didn’t hear it. 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 hearing loss to some degree. For someone with hearing loss, attending a wedding can be difficult. Not being able to hear the vows, the speeches or participate in conversations can leave a person feeling left out, disengaged and alienated from the proceedings. Your guests with hearing loss deserve to have the same wedding experience as your hearing guests. But not all guests with hearing loss have the same needs. 

No. 1: Sketch out a plan

On your invitations, make an option for your 
guests to indicate if they want a print out of 
the spoken parts of your wedding ceremony. 
That way, nobody misses out during your
special day!

So before you begin your planning, in order to make sure your wedding is as hearing-accessible as possible, 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 hearing-impaired, what is his preferred method of communication? Does he prefer ASL or speechreading? Answering these questions will help guide you to the proper services to provide for your guests.

No. 2: Talk to the venue owner

As with all 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 and clearly 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 altar as possible. If you have a seating chart for the reception, make sure to place those with hearing loss close to the main table instead of at the back of the room; they’ll thank you for it.

No. 3: 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 print out of the ceremony made available. In addition, a printed itinerary of the wedding festivities can keep everyone on track and reduce confusion and misunderstandings.

No. 4: 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.

No. 5: Turn up the volume (but not too loud!)

Lastly, turn up the volume! Speak up when reciting your vows. It’s tempting to speak softly, as you may be 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.

No. 6: Make your 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 to follow a conversation 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 the person’s face that they are talking to, 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. You could 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 deaf and hearing impaired to feel vibrations of the music, and will be sure to get everyone in the room dancing.

So remember, a little advance notice is all you need to create a hearing-loss friendly wedding. Just a few thoughtful steps can ensure that your guests with hearing loss will feel like they didn’t miss a beat, making your wedding day is as joyful for them as it is for you.

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