Winston Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis,” and people with hearing loss have taken his advice with Covid-19. Times have been very hard for many of us with hearing loss during the pandemic — increased levels of isolation, difficulties communicating because of masks and the lack of captioning on many video conferencing platforms — but the community has come together to advocate for change and to build awareness.
It feels like our efforts are having impact. More consideration is being given to the communication needs of people with hearing loss in a variety of settings, including in hospitals. Technology companies are rolling out new options to aid with communication. Media coverage of clear face masks is on the rise. This is all good news.
Many Video Conferencing Platforms Now Offer Free Auto Captioning
Both Google Meet and Microsoft Teams now offer free auto-captions on all video calls made on their platforms. Webex just announced it is trialing auto captions as well. High quality auto captions not only make smart business sense — almost everyone finds captions helpful amid the new norm of perpetual video conference calls — it is also the right thing to do because it makes these calls more inclusive.
This is true not just for people with hearing loss, but also for non-native English speakers, people with auditory and sensory processing issues, and many others. Zoom lags behind but is starting to include people with hearing loss in its beta test of integrated auto captions. To show Zoom how important free auto captions are to your ability to communicate on their platform, sign and share the petition Provide Free Captions for People with Hearing Loss on Video Conferencing Platforms.
Interest in Clear Masks is Growing
While clear masks remain difficult to find — the only FDA approved clear mask has been sold out for months — clear masks have become part of the conversation. This is a big step forward. In the United Kingdom, several hearing loss related charities teamed up to write a letter to the National Health Service urging them to review the commissioning and availability of protective face masks and visors/shields for use in health settings. The letter states:
Clear face masks would certainly help, by allowing deaf people to lip-read and to access more visual cues. Clear face visors/shields, making it possible to see the whole face, would make it easier still. Research indicates that visors/shields also help to reduce anxiety among patients.
In the United States, media coverage has helped build awareness about the importance of clear mask by sharing the challenges people with hearing loss face while communicating with masks. The media are also sharing feel-good stories about crafters fashioning home-made clear masks to help. These narratives raise awareness about the challenges of living with hearing loss and may help accelerate the usage of clear masks or similar solutions across a variety of settings.
New Apps with Accessibility Features are Rolling Out Fast
Technology companies have been racing to get new products to market driven by increased demand for apps that make remote communication easier. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. One app that stands out is Chatable, which along with Ear Machine and Google’s Sound Amplifier, provides sound amplification via headphones attached to your smartphone.
I recently tried Chatable while stopped in my car due to road work up ahead. I could not understand the spoken instructions of the masked man directing traffic until I turned on the app. Each of the sound amplifier apps can prove helpful when conversing with masks. Ear Machine and Sound Amplifier are free. Chatable has a free version, but for full functionality, including its highest levels of background noise reduction, the cost is $12.99 per month. Apple recently announced its new AirPods can be used as sound amplifiers as well.
It is exciting to see the hearing loss community come together during this time of crisis to share information, guidance and support and to advocate for our needs. Our collective work is having impact. Let’s continue to use this crisis to help society build a new and higher standard for accessible communication that lasts well into the future.
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24 thoughts on “Will Covid-19 Inspire Positive Change for People With Hearing Loss?”
Frustration is the big word.
It has definitely been frustrating as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
A couple of thoughts about apps.
I haven’t tried Chatable or the other two but I do use Otter, the IOS captioning app, in many situations. The problem is that it needs wifi to provide instant captioning. It will record a conversation without wifi but it won’t give you live captioning.
The other issue with these apps is that people with cochlear implants can’t use headphones. I have an implant in one ear and a ha in the other. I can’t use headphones with the hearing aid because the close fit makes the hearing aid squeal. (Better headphones might help with the hearing aid, but not the c.i.).
See through masks are also great but they wouldn’t help with your traffic cop unless he happened to have one, which is very unlikely. No one is going to swap out their mask to wear one you give them, especially if you want it back.
So it’s two steps forward but one step back. Eventually we’ll get there.
Yes, there are definitely challenges, but two steps forward and one back is still motion in the right direction. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for all your advocacy work.
Inspirational reading ! We just need to keep advocating. I hope you don’t mind if I repost to my blog ?
Please be sure to share the link to the original rather than copying and pasting the text. Thanks for your comment.
You got it !
Shari, In my business life, I always believed that out of adversity comes innovation and am looking forward to seeing what innovations 2021 brings. I had an appt. for new hearing aids yesterday at Penn and asked the AuD about clear masks. She says they want to use them in their practice, which is a huge practice, but have not been able to get them. So the innovations are there, production (and profits) need to catch up.
Thanks for organizing the petition.
I hope they catch up quickly! Thank you for sharing your perspective.
I tried posting this message 1/2 hour ago. Hope this won’t be a duplicate.
I received this email from this company saying they are receiving orders now.
Hope it helps.
The moment is finally here- the ClearMask™ is ready for purchase!
Our records show that you had placed a pre-order with us, so you have special early access to purchase the ClearMask™ now.
The masks are available starting at $67 for a box of 24 masks with expedited shipping included.
We truly thank you for your support and patience during this time, and we look forward to serving you again in the future!
The ClearMask Team
P.S. We’re around 24/7 through our social media channels (Facebook & Twitter) and can be reached anytime through email.
PLACE YOUR ORDER NOW
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ClearMask LLC, 1824 Webster St., Baltimore, MD 21230, United States
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Thank you for sharing the information!
Reply to Katherine: My Phonak BTEs can switch to Bluetooth capacity with a clip-on microphone.Meaning, no ear buds.
Shari, bravo for adding Winston Churchill’s comment! Crisis filters change especially in a society where the word change meets resistance. Whether the pandemic or otherwise, I vowed not to sit and wait. Since Mid-March I connected with appropriate people and companies about see through masks and other vital needs people with hearing loss must have to communicate. Keep in mind not every person can lipread. Virtual meetings have sent a red ball of fire up our spines and change has transpired, because as people with hearing loss we have made it known accessibility is necessary if our hearing society expects us to communicate with the general population. So glad to see technological services making captioning and sign language interpreters available. A letter to the editor and even an article was written about communication and face masks was initiated on my end. God bless those who listen to us. That’s the key! Think how the profoundly deaf are handling this pandemic. Sheds a whole different light.
Thank you for your advocacy work and for sharing your perspective.
Mike, I can share there are several businesses who are producing the clear mask and are available. You need to give the office the name “Clear Mask” company and I was told the business purchasing agent or supplier must contact the company to place an order. Otherwise, if the department goes about it the wrong way they will not have success in ordering. The see through face masks companies have been working solely with medical and frontline COVID-19 Pandemic warriors. There should be absolutely no reason why the department can’t acquire the masks.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I am in Pennsylvania as wel.
The Clear Mask was just released for sale. It is not an N95 product. But, at Boston Children’s Hospital , the audiologists are using them and they are very happy with them, because they are comfortable, breathable and washable/reusable.
Thanks for sharing the news.
Another great blog this week and you are right the hearing loss community must stick together. It’s Important that we keep speaking out to get improvements in place. On a positive I did get in touch with Zoom and raised the issue of closed captioning (on your advice) and they emailed me back saying that they will get me included on the beta testing. Just waiting for them to set it up now
Excellent! Let me know how it goes. Thank you for your comment.
What is the name of the company who makes the clear masks please?
Here is a link to the FDA approved clear mask. Thanks for the question. https://safenclear.com/product/communicator-box/
Janice, I’m just catching up to this. Are you talking about syncing your computer to your hearing aid via Bluetooth? My phone is synced to my hearing aid but I haven’t been able to get my computer connected. Any suggestions?
My cell phone is connected to my aids with the microphone via BT tech. I have great speakers and use captions for streaming shows on my desktop.
Thank you for sharing what works for you.