The Challenges Of Communicating With A Mask While Hearing-ImpairedAudiology by Accent
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the importance of face masks apparent because they can significantly reduce or eliminate the transfer of virus-containing respiratory droplets. For people who have hearing impairments or hearing loss, however, wearing face masks can pose a barrier to communication whether they are wearing hearing aids or not.
Face masks can change the volume of sound from speaking and the clarity and tone of the words that are spoken. They can muffle sounds. People who have learned to use lip reading and facial expressions to understand what is said might lose that invaluable tool when face masks cover the mouths and faces of others. When wearing face masks is combined with social distancing, the challenges are multiplied. Here are some questions about communication for the hearing impaired while wearing face masks.
1. What are some of the challenges that hearing-impaired people face during the pandemic?
People who are hearing impaired cannot depend on visual cues when they and others are wearing face masks. The pandemic has also forced people to stand further apart, which lessens the sounds that reach them and makes it more difficult for people to see other visual cues. However, moving closer to hear better can place people at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
2. How do masks affect communication for hearing-impaired people and others?
With widespread masking, the degree to which people rely on visual cues during conversation has become more apparent. People make adjustments by slowing down how quickly they speak and using hand gestures.
3. What strategies might help until we can return to normal life?
Before starting a conversation, background noise should be minimized. People should face each other and not try to have conversations between rooms. People who are speaking should use body language, including pointing at objects or gesturing that they are getting ready to talk. Hearing-impaired people should explain when they struggle to hear and ask people who are speaking to repeat themselves when necessary.
If talking doesn’t work, people can write things down or use talk-to-text apps. Manufacturers have also made a mask mode for hearing aids that helps to block out background noise. An audiologist can turn on this feature for people with hearing aids.
4. Who else might have trouble hearing because of masks?
Several other groups of people might have problems because of mask-wearing. These groups include people who have auditory processing disorders, children with language delays, and people who have trouble understanding social cues. People need to be patient and recognize that masks present challenges for some people.
5. What problems do people have with wearing masks and hearing aids?
People who use hearing aids can struggle to find face masks that fit with hearing aids. Masks can change the hearing aid’s position in the ear canal, interfering with its effectiveness. Hearing aids can also be pulled out if they are caught in the mask’s loops. Finding masks with extended loops that wrap around the head instead of around the ears can help.
If you have a hearing loss and are struggling to understand others who are wearing masks, you should schedule an appointment with an audiologist at Audiology by Accent. We can help to install the mask-wearing app so that background noise can be minimized when you are having a conversation. We can also help you to find mask options that might work better with hearing aids. Contact us today to schedule an appointment by calling us at 352.271.5373.