For the 48 million Americans with hearing loss, communication is challenging enough under the best of circumstances. The global coronavirus pandemic has created additional unexpected obstacles.
Many hard of hearing individuals rely on lip reading in order to communicate with others. With the CDC recommending people wear face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s extremely difficult for these individuals to follow conversations. Even those who are well-versed in American Sign Language are having trouble, as facial expressions play a key role in communicating. Those who have some degree of hearing ability and don’t need to read lips still struggle to understand the muffled speech that masks create. For people who wear hearing aids, simply putting on a face mask can be difficult; the most popular styles have loops that circle the ears, but these can easily dislodge hearing devices. The best face mask for hearing aid wearers is the type that is tied around the back of the head.
Six-foot social distancing requirements further exacerbate the problem. Old-school methods such as writing down questions on a pad of paper and passing them back and forth are no longer permitted.
Another barrier involves interpreters. With most hospitals refusing to allow visitors, people who have relied on interpreters to communicate with medical staff suddenly find themselves alone.
Medical experts recommend certain strategies for the hearing impaired, such as downloading speech-to-text apps for their smartphones and leaving home with a written script prepared in advance.
One solution might involve the very source of the problem: face masks. Some manufacturers have introduced transparent see-through masks that offer full-face visibility via a protective plastic panel, and have even gone so far as to include anti-fogging properties that prevent heat and moisture from fogging up the covering.
If you’re struggling to communicate due to COVID-19 restrictions, contact your audiologist for solutions.