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Abby Stonehouse talks about accessibility for those affected by hearing loss

Abby Stonehouse, a Montreal-based comedian originally from the Valley, gave a presentation to about 25 people on May 2 about the arts and accessibility regarding people who experience hearing loss. “Hearing loss can be wildly misunderstood and carry a stigma. Therefore, I wanted to open a conversation about it with this group, in hopes to inspire them to start managing their hearing health,” she explains. Stonehouse herself has lived with moderate hearing loss for about eight years and works quite a bit in the field of disability visibility. The event was organized by Cindy Barrington Stonehouse and the Howick Women’s Institute.

This presentation was a version of a talk that Stonehouse does across the country, and she is even bringing it to New Orleans in June. “The presentation talks about being a standup comedian with hearing loss, and how the arts can be inaccessible for people with disabilities. In the presentation, I elaborate on how art can be accessible and the steps we can take to do that,” she says. The version of the presentation she gave in Howick “included signs of hearing loss, pathways to services, and communication strategies. One out of three people over the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss,” she says.

Stonehouse has been working as an advocate in this field for about five years. Hearing loss runs in her family, so it is a topic that is very close to her. “What deepened my knowledge and passion for this work started about five years ago, when I started working as a program coordinator for a not-for-profit called Hear Quebec. This organization has programs and services for people affected by hearing loss,” she says. She does not work for Hear Quebec anymore; however, she does still volunteer with them at times to put on a fully accessible comedy show called Access Comedy. “This show/project with them allows me to blend my two passions: comedy and accessibility. Our last show was in September 2022, and it was spectacular.”

 

Comedian Abby Stonehouse spoke with members of the Howick Womens Institute on May 2 about hearing loss the arts and accessibility PHOTO Courtesy of Abby Stonehouse

 

In terms of performance settings, Stonehouse says, “I think the best way for a performance space to be accessible for the hearing loss community is to include live closed captioning. Even having one event with this accessibility is a great step forward.” The best way for people to make sure their shows are accessible is to talk to disabled people: “The first step is education surrounding accessibility and talking to people affected by disabilities. Many producers and artists are often unaware of accessibility measures that can expand their audiences and include people with disabilities,” she shares. Hearing loss is different for each person, so understanding that access needs will change from person to person is hugely important.

The event organizer and proud mom of Stonehouse, Cindy Barrington Stonehouse, explains that the turnout was better than they expected, and the audience had a great time. “We were amazed with how many people showed up. All I’ve heard is rave reviews. People got a lot out of it and found it very interesting, whether they had hearing loss or not,” she says. For her, it was inspiring to see how many people were touched by the presentation. Not only did it have an effect on people who experience hearing loss; some people in the audience were there because they have a family member experiencing it and they wanted to learn more. Stonehouse adds, “I feel so fortunate to have spoken to this group. They were so engaged, welcoming, and fun.”

To learn more, Stonehouse encourages people to check out Hear Quebec’s program Include Me, which is “working towards making public spaces more accessible for people with hearing loss.” She also offers to answer questions that anyone may have if they reach out to her. Her contact information can be found on her website, abbystonehouse.com. If you’d like to hear more about Stonehouse, you can listen to her podcast, House of Stone, which even has a version on YouTube that is accessible to people with hearing loss. Stonehouse will also have a show during the Just for Laughs comedy festival this year. Though the date has not been confirmed, the show is called Access Comedy, and will be presented with Off JFL/Zoofest. More details will be available on Stonehouse’s website once they are officially announced.

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