Access Professionals Need Accessibility Too

There is one thing that has been overlooked for the longest time. I don’t speak for all access professionals, but reckon that many will agree. It remains a thorny issue till today and must be said:

Presenters do not commit enough effort at delivering clear and conducive speeches.

You know the drill: You attend a lecture, workshop, presentation, or any event. In the opening moments, the presenter peppers their speech with filler words and sounds that start with “uh” and ends with “mm”. Speakers who trip over themselves also commit verbal fouls such as stammering, stuttering, or repeating themselves without trying to pause, organise their thoughts, then articulate in a more meaningful manner. To them, I say: Slow down, this is not a race.

To be clear, people with impediments or disabilities that affect their speech are excluded. They face a different set of challenges. Furthermore, it is understood , and indeed quite normal, that nobody can speak without the odd sprinkling of filler words.

Rather, the lights are cast upon people whose job it is to often articulate what they do, and speak passionately about a topic for which their livelihood depends on. Presenters, speakers, trainers, guests, and even lecturers who teach communication at educational institutes are not spared–is this oddly specific? Yes, it is.

To be given the privilege of teaching and speaking to a willing (and unwilling) audience is not a task that one can simply shrug off; It is also not something that one does without consideration for the spoken word and grave effort at practicing its smooth delivery.

Shoddy speech is bad, and we must pinpoint people in privileged positions who are poised to prattle on.

Careless rambling adversely impacts access professionals and specialists more so than we think. When you give a presentation at an event attended by hundreds of people, the audience must listen to you. If this is not linguistic terrorism, it is high time we recognise it as one.

If the event is made accessible, and you know that a Sign Language Interpreter, Notetaker, or Live Captioner is providing access services, understand this: Access(ability) professionals listen to everything you say and every gesture you make. They observe your mannerisms, tone of voice, and the whole nine yards. Access professionals are there to translate, interpret, and capture your word into a manner often different from the original input.

What you say may be interpreted from English to Singapore Sign Language (SgSL). Your words may even be manually captured via a meaning-for-meaning transcriptive style that sees the output resembling something akin to a transcription (without the verbatim word capture).

Understand that these forms of access to the Deaf, Hard-of-hearing, Deafblind, and VI/Blind community depend on another human being consciously and actively listening to what is being said. They must do so in order to deliver meaningful output.

Such consistent and conscious listening can be a stressful activity at times. Access work is often mentally and physically taxing; If you wish to understand what that feels like, try this: Listen to the news and type what you hear for 15 minutes without stopping. This gives you a surface-level understanding of what it is like to provide access.

If you have the privilege of speaking and presenting to an audience, you owe it to yourself to practice delivering clear speech and pronunciation. Make every effort to ensure that you are absolutely clear, not only for hearing people, but for accessibility professionals too. When you speak consistently, concisely, and drop filler words, you help accessibility professionals capture what you are saying without much difficulty and help them interpret your speech accurately.

So, drop the filler words, false starts, and needless content. Let’s not pile mental load onto the access specialists and professionals. If you care about accurate and meaningful translations and interpretations, make the effort to speak clearly.

We should not need to have access providers capture the “uhms”, “uh”, “err”, and “ahh(s)” in text. Imagine how silly and unprofessional that’d make the speakers look. Imagine if access providers literally typed every word you said, and sign every filler word you say. Imagine if your words ended up looking like this: “solikeiwanttoermsaythatthewaythisuhworksisifyouermputthishereummbecauselike”. If it looks ridiculous, think about how you sound.

Now that I think of it, perhaps it might help to do just that if only to highlight this verbal pandemic. Please, let’s all make the effort to speak better. Please speak slower. Quantity is not always quality. Delivering better speeches is not easy. Anything ever worth doing never is. It all starts from recognising our own weakness, then making the conscious effort to improve.

Making your event accessible is only half the battle. Let’s not forget about making your event accessible to the accessibility professionals too.

P.S. I don’t know what to title this post. This will do for now.