by Ken Stewart
From where I sat in the mammoth airport waiting area, I could hear all the electronically enhanced announcements well, perhaps too well. When a perky airline ground agent chirped, "We're just about to start boarding now ...," I gathered up my carry-ons and aimed myself at my gate for early- boarding assistance. Not so fast, big guy! The P.A. announcement was actually from another one of the five or six gates all sharing the waiting area.
It was not the only announcement that day requiring my full attention to discern its specific origin. All those gates communicated through the same loudspeakers. The experience called to mind other circumstances too, in which a voice coming to me out of a centrally located speaker system totally concealed the locus of the person behind the magnified tones. As the summer convention season approaches each year, an annually repeated experience is vividly called to mind.
One of my favorite events every July at the ACB convention is a breakfast meeting convened by a nationally prominent service organization. The program is always very interesting, and it is a great opportunity to say hello to colleagues not seen for a year. But this favored event has an annual disappointment too. When a staffer walks around the room with a remote microphone, all the sound emanates from wherever the loudspeakers are. So, there is no non-visual way to locate him. As he moves from table to table, inviting attendees to identify themselves, the place in the room of each is undeterminable. So what? So when I want to find someone particular afterward, which part of the room do I head for?
A similar masking effect results when there is a presentation being made from a large banquet room with many tables and no distinctive "front," stage, or podium area. Those of us who depend on our ears to determine in which specific direction to skid our chairs toward, have only the centralized public address system to hear. Alas, these frustrations are not inevitable or intractable. A technique I have come to call "pre-miking" is an easy solution. By pre-miking, the person at the microphone simply says something before putting it up to his mouth. A simple "Good morning" can locate him. At that nice breakfast meeting convention week, the staffer can describe his movements around the room off-mike. Or he could announce where he is as he wanders about -- "I'm back here at the far left corner now," or, "Here we are with the folks at table seven," or, "Let's see who we have out here in front of the head table." A bonus from this simple strategy would be that it would alert people before the microphone is suddenly thrust in front of them for their greeting. Several times I have offered this suggestion in past years to this prominent national organization serving the blind community, and I shall continue my efforts to influence their host behavior at that otherwise delightful convention event.
Even the airport's public address announcements are amenable to improvement. A little "pre-miked" perky chirping would help. And it always helps when the first thing to come out of that ubiquitous public address is location-specific, like "Here at Gate 24 we're ready to ..."