Newly launched Hearing Access Protocol has key takeaways for PR industry

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

A new protocol document launched today provides valuable insight into delivering accessible meetings and events to those with hearing loss. Published by Ideas for Ears, a social enterprise based in Scotland with the sole aim of making the UK a more hearing-friendly place. Though non-sector specific, the Hearing Access Protocol contains some valuable insights for PR agencies. Here’s what PR pros can take away from its findings.


Stop using numbers to make a decision on inclusivity

One tenth of the UK’s workforce is reported to have hearing loss, that translates to roughly 3.3 million people. Currently, we match accessibility requirements to those who have raised a need but this relies on two things; the person declaring their hearing loss and the hearing loss being diagnosed in the first place. Accessibility-by-numbers is no longer an acceptable approach, particularly when much is made of cross sector and human to human marketing, approaches which, by their nature, rely on breaking down barriers.


Shared responsibility for accessibility

Key to the new protocol is a set of principles and beliefs around a central ethos – namely that the responsibility to deliver accessible meetings and events is shared by everyone, equally. That means organisers, presenters and attendees. This is set out in the report as:

Hearing Access Protocol General Ethos

For PR professionals hosting, running or organising events, this means not relying solely on the venue to supply accessibility information. One of the first help points for organisers in the Hearing Access Protocol is, frankly, a PR Pro’s core role – change mindsets and create positive experiences. If we can’t do that, we shouldn’t be in PR.



Help, assumptions and privacy, oh my!

As a hearing aid user and long-time deaf person believe me when I say we’re good at bluffing. We are masters of the vague undefined expression and non-committal nod. Approaching accessibility from the position of ‘everything is fine, until we’re told otherwise’ relies on assumptions. It is a difficult tightrope to walk – not assuming, yet also respecting privacy and avoiding putting people in awkward positions. The new Hearing Access Protocol recognises this and its list of tips is extensive and detailed – from running events to hosting meetings and covering equipment such as the Rule of Thumb: for PA systems section to explaining hearing loops, which even those with hearing loss may not fully understand!


Listening is fundamental to accessibility and inclusivity

Listening is a desirable PR skill but it’s one that’s viewed as valuable from the perspective of the client/audience relationship, not one that we apply in our own actions relating to diversity in PR. However, the Hearing Access Protocol clearly demonstrates how PR professionals can apply this same skill to meeting and event accessibility. This is specifically noticeable in its guidance on inviting comment and requests prior to events and meetings, it’s detailed list of questions to ask and support of post-event feedback.


The Hearing Access Protocol is a document worthwhile adding to any PR event toolkit. It’s been written from a non-hearing point of view and its depth and comprehensiveness is testament to the author’s understanding of organisers being overwhelmed and viewing it as a huge undertaking. Whilst some of the points on the checklist may seem like common sense and second nature to us as PR professionals, there are definitely others which are unlikely to be considered without a prompt. Sally Shaw, founder of Ideas for Ears, hopes the protocol will be adopted and used to design, plan and run meetings and events that are suitable for those of all hearing abilities.

You can download the full protocol here.