Living Options Devon is a registered charity working across the southwest of the United Kingdom to ensure that people who are deaf or with disabilities can live the lives they choose. The organization's program, Heritage Ability, is intended to make heritage sites accessible to all visitors, regardless of physical abilities.
Mr. Alasdair Grant is a Deaf Alumni Program Manager for Deaf Unity, a deaf-led learning and development charity. He also is a deaf bat expert training for his license. It was Alasdair's desire to improve the engagement of the Deaf Community with the natural environment. As a profoundly deaf person, Alasdair found that traditional heterodyne bat detecting equipment, which rely on the user to hear the bat call, prevented him from conducting surveys. Innovation in bat detector technology, such as the Wildlife Acoustics EM3+ bat detector, displayed sonograms and enabled Alasdair to identify bats from the bat calls by sight. While the EM3+ was useful for survey work, the screen was too small for leading bat walks. Alasdair had a vision of organizing a deaf bat walk and needed to find a better solution.
During his trainings as a bat worker and though his membership with the Avon and Somerset Bat Groups, Alasdair came across the Wildlife Acoustics Echo Meter Touch. Alasdair knew he was interested in using the Echo Meter Touch because of its great visual display. Alasdair explains, "Since many bats echolocate at frequencies the human ear cannot hear, the Echo Meter Touch's ability to "translate" the sounds into human hearing range with Real Time Expansion technology is an invaluable tool for active bat detecting. But for those with hearing impairments, it is the detailed visual display that is key to alerting the user to bat presence and echolocations. It can even be a way to train the user to identify or narrow down species by call shape appearance, as they happen in real time. They can instead see calls on a visual display in real-time." Alasdair finally found a platform that could be connected to a large enough display to conduct a deaf-led bat walk. Together, Mr. Grant with the Echo Meter Touch as a tool of inclusion, could bridge deaf, hearing impaired and hearing-enabled attendees together. The wonderful mix of sight and sound with bat biology could open a new world to many regardless of physical ability.
With the help of the Bat Conservation Trust and Avon Bat Group, Alasdair received training on how to run bat walks and adapted similar ideas to lead a walk suitable for deaf people.
Alasdair then contacted Living Options Devon about running a deaf-led bat walk with Heritage Ability. The Natural History Book Service (NHBS), a Wildlife Acoustics reseller in Totnes, generously loaned Living Options Devon the Echo Meter Touch for the walk.
The Echo Meter Touch was a vital piece of equipment for the evening. Alasdair explains, "The success of the project was measured in terms of how the deaf participants were engaged in learning about the natural environment. The project clearly achieved that aim" said Mr. Grant. "The fact that the deaf members of the group were able to see the bat calls, inspired them to develop an interest in bats. As a result, they were encouraged to conserve bat habitat and learn the importance of bats in terms of the ecosystem services that bats provide."
Alasdair led the participants using British Sign Language as he recorded and played back the bat calls on the screen to show the bats that were all around them. He even froze the frames to compare different call shapes between species to see if anyone could spot the differences. Over the course of the walk, the participants witnessed Soprano Pipistrelles and Lesser Horseshoe Bats exiting their roosts in outbuildings in Cockington Court, and Common Pipistrelles, Serotine, and Noctule feeding in the Park and Lakes area.
Participation in the natural environment is extremely challenging for deaf people because there are few experts who are deaf themselves. Many local natural history societies are not accessible for the deaf and hearing impaired. Alasdair wants to encourage naturalists to learn Sign Language to enable bat walk leaders so their participants may further engage in the natural environment as well as the unique world of chiropter.
There are several pieces of advice is to ensure the success of a deaf-led walk. First, the walk should be staffed by sign language interpreters. Second, the detectors used should be easily viewed by all participants. In addition highly visible jackets are an important tool for leading deaf bat walks in the dark especially among those who use their vision for awareness of their spatial surroundings. Potential risks might be slippery and narrow paths, especially around water. The walk must be subject to a full risk assessment in daylight to assess the health and safety implications for a group of deaf people. The walk leaders who use Sign Language must be adequately lit so that they can be seen by other Sign Language users without disturbing the bats.
Finally, full instruction on how to use the equipment (including the Echo Meter Touch) and a summary of the ecology of bats should be given prior to the start of the walk. The Bat Conservation Trust has produced some useful guides for undertaking bat walks for Deaf people.
For learning more about the Echo Meter Touch, Deaf people can also watch the Echo Meter Touch tutorial videos. Viewers can click on "more" and then "transcript" and see text of the voiceover for the video training or click on "cc" and see the text on the screen.
This event took place in June 2016. Alasdair plans to repeat the bat walk next year and extend this initiative to other regions of the UK. According to Heritage Ability's Development Manager, Dominic Acland, "Living Options and Deaf Unity very much hope to run more bat walks in the future and would be delighted to advise other organizations and bat groups on how to lead bat walks for Deaf People."
Alasdair also hopes to establish a Deaf Bat Group to encourage more deaf and hearing impaired people to gain their bat licenses.
**Special thanks Alasdair Grant, Living Options Devon and Heritage Ability for providing information to support the writing of this case study.