Audio Guides Abroad

As I’m sure most of you will be aware by now, I recently came back from a wonderful trip to beautiful Italy and whilst I adored the culture, food and plentiful Prosecco, I was left disappointed by the audio guide facilities or lack thereof for the hard of hearing/deaf.

Of course I’ve been on holiday and used audio guides before but I either had never noticed their shortfalls or I just wasn’t paying any attention – the latter sounds rather familiar.

Before heading off on our Italian adventure we had booked and paid for two audio tours; one walking tour in Venice and one audio tour of the Colosseum in Rome. I hadn’t really thought of the implications of these audio tours for me and just assumed that there would be some provision in place, i.e. over the ear headphones that my CI would be able to pick up audio from or possibly even a real life (shock!) tour guide.

However, this wasn’t the case. The first tour, the walking tour of Venice consisted of a tour guide speaking into a microphone for which we all had one ear bud connected to a little device that hung around our necks, clearly marking us out as tourists. When I mentioned to the staff operating the tour that I wouldn’t be able to hear through the earbud they were very confused, they thought I was telling them it wasn’t working and proceeded to give me another earbud in exchange.

Once we had established that it wasn’t the device not working but rather my ears, the woman simply told me to stay close to the guide and listen to him. Easier said than done when you are in a 20+ tourist group navigating the winding lanes and cobbled streets of Venice. Whilst there were a few stops to points of interest where I could listen to the guide by pushing my way to the front of our large group (typical Britain abroad right!), most of the time was spent walking around the lanes trying not to get squished by the hordes of other tourist groups whilst attempting to grab a few words of the guides constant, rambling commentary. My husband informs me that his rambling wasn’t all that informative and filled me in when there was something of interest but it made me feel very disconnected from the whole experience.

My second experience with an audio guide in Rome wasn’t much better – this time we were given a small iPod pre-loaded with information, pictures and videos of the Colosseum past and present. Whilst the pictures were useful in giving a visual image of how the spectacular building was used in Roman times, it was no substitute for hearing the stories of what used to happen.

To be honest, this time I didn’t inform the staff that I wouldn’t be able to hear through the earbuds as the place was absolutely packed to the rafters and I didn’t want to hold up the massive queue of impatient visitors behind me. Besides, I peeked into the room where the audio guides were kept and couldn’t see any alternative headphones or audio equipment.

Whilst my husband proved to be a wonderful personal tour guide, I did feel a bit sorry for him having to relay all the information to me all the time and having me ask a myriad of questions. I did think afterwards that I probably could have connected my CI cable directly to my CI but the general advice from manufacturers is not to connect your CI to devices you are unsure of/do not own in case it affects it in any way.

It does make me wonder what other provisions are in place for the deaf/hard of hearing in the way of audio guides; even subtitles on the iPod videos would have been much welcomed but didn’t appear to be an option.

It’s incredible to think for all these major tourist attractions around the world and the millions of people who visit them every week, there isn’t a system in place for those who cannot hear. With an estimated 1 in 22 people suffering from some form of hearing loss, it is a huge market that they are not catering for, and one that is sadly growing all the time.

Have you had a similar experience with audio guides, whether here in the UK or abroad? What would your advice be to other deaf or hard of hearing individuals?

One thought on “Audio Guides Abroad

  1. National Trust have caught up with this in some venues now. They do have transcripts of some displays which are extremely helpful. Having a Hearing Dog for Deaf People does help considerably when explaining the difficulties of audio descriptions without subtitles so I do find that you get direct understanding.

    My option is usually to stand next to the guide and like you have my husband close by to repeat anything not heard. Also to ask the guide to repeat as often others have not heard either and they tend then to look on you as the mouthpiece for misheard or misinterpreted information.

    I have found more recently there is a better understanding. Also many museums will give discount or free entry to a carer (I hate that term) which means you don’t feel so bad if you miss out on some exhibits.

    But I do feel we have a responsibility to share this with venues in a respectful and clear way so that they can be better prepared for a good visitor experience for all.



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