Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Game Design with Disability in Mind 2: Hearing Impairment

This second post in a series that Deborah Southwell has written on Game Design with Disability in Mind covers hearing impairment, and what we can do as game designers to make that less of an issue.

Hearing Impairment

Having been deaf in my right ear since birth, I have lived experience of hearing impairment.  Hearing loss is the third leading cause of disability globally. Normal hearing is both frequency- and direction-dependent.

  • Binaural hearing loss refers to the loss of hearing in both ears
  • Monaural or unilateral hearing loss: refers to the loss of hearing in one ear only

Monaural listeners experience

  • disability and handicap that matches or exceeds that reported by individuals with bilateral hearing loss
  • have a loss of spatial perception which leads to reduced ability:
    • to work out where sounds are coming from
    • to understand speech in competing noise context e.g., a crowded room, café etc.
  • uncertainty when a person is unsure of where sound is coming from and what to listen to
  • auditory fatigue because a higher level of attention is required
    • to focus on what another person is saying
    • when the person is unfamiliar with the context
    • when there is ambiguity in speech signals so that the person cannot fill in the missing gaps (e.g., acoustics, pronunciation, volume)
  • lack of awareness of a talker positioned at their deaf ear so they can be perceived as distracted, aloof, or inattentive.
  • a constant need to adapt and modify the position of their good ear so they can best hear, placing increased demand on the listener.

What you can do

  • U-shape configuration with chairs so the person can have better interaction with peers
  • minimise background noise
    • use a quieter area, with soft materials in the room if possible, and away from heaters, air conditioning, kitchen noise etc.
    • one person speaking at a time in plenary contexts, or Q&A (preferable signalling where they are so person can ‘tune into’ them i.e. encourage putting their hand up rather than just calling out)
    • repeat question from the group so everyone has a chance to hear it, before answering.
  • face the person when speaking; do not cover your mouth with your hand or beard.
  • talk slowly; pronounce words clearly; do not raise your voice
  • use lots of pictures, graphics, and text labels
  • use technology, and sound system where possible
    • a centralised system of announcements
    • a good microphone
  • clear signage as they may not pick up directions e.g., venue layout, kitchen, toilets etc.


Hearing Impairment Resources

Hearing Loss Factsheet (for Schools)

Cochlear Implants

Short Film: Reflected on Screen: Marlee Matlin (2021)

Available at:

Movie: Children of A Lesser God (1986)

This starred Marlee Matlin, a 19 year old deaf actress, who won an academy award for her role in the movie.

Currently available for rent from Amazon Prime


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