Zoom Fatigue for People with Hearing Loss

Zoom fatigue is real, as an article in National Geographic lays out very clearly: “‘Zoom Fatigue’ may be with us for years. Here’s how we’ll cope.

But let me just say that the author of this article has no idea what Zoom fatigue is like for people with hearing loss. We don’t just endure those long sessions, we read them, one word at a time.

It reminds me of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers quip: She did everything he did, but backwards and in high heels.

The image below is a screenshot of a webinar I attended this week. There was PowerPoint (the big box), the speaker (postage stamp, right), live captions (bottom three lines), and captions in context (called “full transcript,” box at the right). This is an example of good captioning — and it’s probably still making you feel just a bit dizzy.

Last week I was on a two-hour Zoom meeting with less than adequate captions. Bad captions, actually. The captions appeared — as these do — as three short lines at a time, at the bottom of a text-heavy powerpoint, but they were much shorter, and pretty meaningless. (I wish I’d taken a screenshot.) To provide context for those free-floating three lines, I clicked on “full transcript”. Full transcript was also three lines at a time, though it gave me five or six segments of three-line text. These three lines are not three sentences. They are arbitrary selections of a certain number of words that would appear on a screen. An arbitrary 10-15 words, whether or not they are complete sentences.

At the meeting last week, I supplemented the provided captions with my own IPhone caption app, Otter. (If you have an Android phone, you can do the same with Google Live Transcribe.) It was a little better, with enough text to provide context. But even Otter was not up to a speaker who spoke too fast, used too many unfamiliar technical terms and acronyms, and was not thinking about who was listening. This was a meeting for people with disabilities, so there was also an ASL interpreter on the screen.

Recently Zoom announced that it would provide free captioning if the originator of the meeting asked for it. This is thanks in part to Shari Eberts’ petition to get Zoom to provide captioning for people with hearing loss. Thank you again Shari. A host can also add Otter captions to a presentation.

Google Meet provides free captions, in a dedicated black box at the bottom of the screen. The captions appear in more or less full sentences. It’s a good ASR system. But Google Meet hosts only smaller meetings.

If a Zoom speaker uses PowerPoint, that adds to the burden for the attendee with hearing loss. The PowerPoint occupies most of the screen, the speaker is postage-stamp size and it’s hard to speech read. Often even after the formal presentation has concluded, the speaker leaves the PowerPoint up, on the screen. So there’s no relief for the hearing-compromised attendee.

Help! We need some new protocols for on-line presentations.

Here are some suggestions for speakers and hosts: Speak slowly and clearly. If you are using PowerPoint, make it text light, not text heavy. If you must repeat the words on the slides in your oral presentation, then make sure you say the same thing – otherwise our eyes are shifting back and forth between the slide and the captions. Provide key words and names to the CART captioner in advance of the meeting. Take down the Power Point when the formal presentation is over, so it’s no longer covering the majority of the screen. CART captioners should set their output directly to Zoom and (this is technical) not use the API third party token.

Despite these troubles, I love ZOOM. Even bad captions make meetings accessible to me that would otherwise not be. Any Zoom meeting is much easier to follow than an uncaptioned in-person meeting.

I want to thank Ann H. Logan for pointing out the National Geographic article in a post on her blog AbyCats’ Thoughts.


For more about living with hearing loss, read my books “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better With Hearing Loss” and “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.com.

17 thoughts on “Zoom Fatigue for People with Hearing Loss

  1. Thanks, Katherine! I agree with everything you say about Zoom fatigue, including loving it because captions gives me access I would not have otherwise. In order to avoid distraction, I move the chat box to the far right bottom of my screen. I also turn the camera off for a few minutes when my Apple watch reminds me to stand and move once an hour. That helps my brain and body stay alert. I hope Zoom providers become more aware of the needs of the hearing loss community.


  2. Katherine
    in the past, how much I enjoyed seeing and hearing the speakers at “Listening to Other Voices” lectures at Glastonbury Abbey and in-person HLAA meeting at the Watertown Library. Now, they are all on zoom. Zoom is my meeting room on my desk, coffee on the table.
    I find I am having to read quite a bit out of the little black box as I can not hear or keep up with the speaker, notably an audiologist at a recent AB session..
    Most important is that not all CI processors and hearing aids have good connections to audio and cell phones. We are each in distinct stages of CI/HA technical capability (and warranties) and those with more apt systems might want to remember that others may not have the latest or best technology.
    Robert Broker


    • I was on that AB session. I do think that for many people captions are the only option. I have top-notch equipment but it’s getting old and it doesn’t work with my computer. It does stream to my phone but I’m not going to sit through two hours on Zoom on my phone!


  3. Hi Katherine,
    I know I am very privileged but for those who can afford it, here is a suggestion. I “stream” both Zoom and YouTube to my Phonak hearing aids via my Roger Pen (There are new models with new names but it’s basically a Phonak mic) connected to my computer where the Headphones attachment is. My hearing aids have a receiver attached and I believe that such an attachment will work with a CI. Thus I don’t need captioning. I realize that not everyone has the same hearing loss and the same needs, but this is a tip.
    Dorothy Miller


      • Indeed, Dorothy succinctly describes how I am able to deal with Zoom Meetings. I graduated from Roger Pens to the Roger Select. I plug the Roger Select into my IPhone for telephone calls (works great!) and also into my laptop for Zoom calls.It makes a huge difference to my ability to hear and follow the conversation/presentation.


  4. Thanks, Katherine, for yet another timely blog that captures so much of what I (and other H-O-H folks) experience! When I read what you write, I feel as if I am listening to Everywoman!

    The problems seem to start, as always, with speakers who are indifferent to some of the rules for public speaking:
    — look at your audience as often as possible (good for those of us who are apt at lip-reading);
    — speak a bit slower and more clearly than you usually do;
    — speak louder than you would if you were talking to your best friend sitting next to you;
    — provide key technical words and proper names to the captioner in advance (as you said);
    — check your audience from time to time to be sure everyone is on the same “page” (or slide).

    Some other annoyances around Zoom meetings also have nothing to do with Zoom itself, but with the vast opportunities it gives us! Such as having public chats, non-stop, with our friends in the audience, instead of contacting them privately on Zoom! Or, through Chat, having the urgent need to supplement whatever information the speaker is offering! Or when important info — such as email addresses of relevant persons or organizations — are listed on Chat, and disappear before one can write them down. I have yet to attend a Zoom meeting where the Chat function is shut off.

    Eventually, I hope, we will become more disciplined in clearing away the annoyances that not only make it hard to concentrate on the speaker, but also contribute to real-time Zoom Fatigue or Hearing Fatigue.

    Warm regards.

    Phyllis Hersh


    • Hi Phyllis. You make excellent points about Chat, especially personal chatting. As for posting URL’s and other info in Chat, I copy and paste them. Or I copy and paste the whole chat at the end of the meeting so I have all the references that people put in Chat.


  5. KATRHERINE – I run hot and cold on Zoom and it’s a serious better than nothing fix for isolation and attenuated travel options. I do fairly well without captions. It depends almost entirely on the speaker’s voice, and articulation. Also the distance between the speaker’s mouth and the microphone is important. The greater the distance the more pronounced is echo and what I call the big room effect. Like trying to understand someone at the other end of a tunnel. The closer to the microphone the clearer the voice. It’s a simple fix. For most presenters a head set with a boom mic works wonders. A computer mic works well if you are close to the keyboard, not six feet away.

    I live in an active senior community. We have a huge dining room / atrium situation in which I can not understand speech unless the speaker is right in front of me. It’s architecturally attractive and terrible acoustically. Of course if everyone wore a lapel mic that was wired into the central audio system and the room was looped – – – But you see the problem. Thanks for the post, Katherine.


    • Speaker’s mouth close to the mic is essential on Zoom or in person. But you don’t want the mic to cover the speaker’s mouth, because then we can’t lipread. The speaker on the talk shown had a headset, and his voice was very clear.


    • To Jerry-
      The installation of an induction loop around the periphery of a room allows people within the loop (with their tele-coils turned on) to avoid background noises when there is a speaker at a mic. People without hearing aids or without ones with tele-coils can be helped with a simple device that is hung around one’s neck. I recommend “Get in the Loop” on the Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) website. And by the way, if we all joined HLAA they could be even stronger in advocating for all of us.


      • HI Dorothy, yes loops are great when you have speaker talking into a mic in a large room. I thought Jerry was talking about being at a table in a large dining area and not being able to hear his table companions. A loop wouldn’t help. As Jerry says, a lapel mic would help or a personal mic like the Roger Pen would, if each speaker held it up to his or her mouth when they spoke. But that’s not practical for most dining situations.


      • Of course you are correct, Katherine. I assumed that they had speakers presenting in the dining room. But loops in dining rooms installed on individual tables could help. My understanding is that some restaurants in Sarasota. I didn’t experience one personally but a friend did.


    • Loops on specific tables is something I haven’t heard of, but it sounds like a way to get around an expensive loop installation of the whole room. I’m not sure of this — you’d have to compare prices.


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