The first time I saw people raise and shake their hands instead of clapping for a speaker, I was intrigued. Clapping to show praise was ingrained in me from a young age, and as an etiquette expert and public speaker, I wondered about this technique. When should I use it? How should I suggest it to an audience?
The more I explored, the more I realized we’re reaching a new understanding of how to fully include everyone who attends a speech, a concert, or a conference. There are an estimated 120 million neurodivergent adults in the world, including 600,000 in Canada and between 15-20 percent of the U.S. population. According to the Cleveland Clinic, neurodivergent people may have “differences in social preferences, ways of communicating, and/or ways of perceiving the environment,” such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or dyslexia.
Many of us are used to seeing sign language interpreters at public events and on TV. Some of us may even have witnessed members of the deaf community at concerts absorbing sound vibrations through balloons or specially designed backpacks. An increasing number of us are now familiar with warnings or announcements about sounds, sights, and topics that may triggering to audiences. Now that our understanding of accommodations extends to neurodivergent people, we have an opportunity to build awareness about their needs.
Clapping can be a trigger for neurodivergent people who experience sound sensitivity (the scientific term for this is hyperacusis). For people with sound sensitivity, clapping can lead to feelings of panic — this student offers a great explanation of what she goes through when she hears the sound.
I’m not sure we will ever fully eliminate clapping from events, but I do think we have an opportunity to explore ways to make event attendees feel comfortable and included. Here are a few ideas to get started.
Communicate with the audience about triggers. If your event or speech includes loud sounds or other triggers, make this clear up front so neurodivergent people have time to prepare.
Create clapping-free zones. If you’re hosting an event, offer clapping-free sessions when neurodivergent people can access the same quality programming you’re offering without additional stimulation. Make it clear during event check-in, orientation, or during your opening remarks that jazz hands are recommended rather than clapping during these times.
Give a quick demonstration. Some people won’t be aware of how to use jazz hands, so give them a primer: Hold your hands over your head and shake your hands back and forth rapidly. If you’re unsure of how to demonstrate jazz hands, check out this quick video.
Offer earplugs. Place a sign and basket at the entryway to your event, or offer earplugs as an optional part of the check-in process. Ear plugs are relatively inexpensive; you can find a pack of 500 pairs for about $50USD on Amazon.
I’m very interested in hearing from neurodivergent people and event organizers. What other practices do you encourage? I’d love to begin a conversation about the best ways to increase awareness about this topic — please help by sharing your experiences in the comments.