Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other federal health officials suggest that wearing face masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. While this is an important measure for keeping vulnerable members of the community safe, it does pose a problem for people with hearing loss.
How Are People with Hearing Loss Affected?
Not only do face masks prevent lip reading, they also muffle and distort speech. According to Laken Brooks, graduate student at the University of Florida and CNN guest writer, “When people wear masks, I feel like I’m wearing earmuffs.” Brooks has tinnitus, and while she can hear clearly most of the time, sound distortion caused by the condition is severe and unpredictable.
Lauren Sugure, who was born hard of hearing, explained that, “Lip reading has been more difficult because you don’t want people to take off their masks or other face coverings for protection. But when you can’t see their lips, it’s extremely difficult to know what they’re saying.”
Sugure used a whiteboard to communicate before the coronavirus pandemic, but it is not possible to pass a notebook or whiteboard back and forth with a person safely standing six feet away.
Solutions for Improving Communication
While there is no simple solution during a time when wearing face masks in public is the norm, there are some strategies that can help improve communication.
The Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center published a list of tips for deaf people to navigate public spaces, explaining, “You need to be prepared. Before the pandemic, hospitals had good services to help you communicate clearly. There are new rules now. Many hospitals will not allow in-person interpreters to go in with you.” Some of the tips include:
- Download a speech-to-text app on your smartphone (apps include Ava, Google Live Transcribe, Microsoft Translator, Otter.ai, Web Captioner).
- Prepare a written script explaining you have hearing loss and what your communication needs are.
During this unprecedented time, the burden of employing strategies for communication should not fall solely on the deaf community. Some ways individuals and organizations can help ease this burden include:
- Hiring at least one fluent ASL speaker in essential businesses.
- Taking the time to learn basic signs.
- Carrying white boards that can be sprayed with disinfectant after use.
- Wearing portable microphones that can transmit signals to hearing aids.
- Investing in masks with a clear plastic panel over the mouth to make lip reading possible.
For more information about communication tips or to schedule an appointment with an expert audiologist, contact Arizona Hearing Specialists today.