As a hearing loss advocate — and a person who has lived with hearing loss for more than half her life — I pride myself on knowing a lot about hearing loss. Over the years, I have become skilled at self-identifying, using assistive listening technologies, adjusting the environment for better hearing, and asking others to use communication best practices. But as the pandemic showed me, there is always more to learn.
Below I share the top five things Covid-19 taught me about hearing loss. Please share what you have learned in the comments.
1. Lipreading is a critical communication tool.
Communicating with masks is a challenge for everyone, but especially for people with hearing loss because masks hide important speech reading cues like lip movements and facial expressions. I have always used lipreading to help me communicate and understand conversation, but I didn’t know to what degree I relied on it until it was gone. Trips to the grocery store, the doctor or an outdoor restaurant have all become more challenging with everyone’s faces hidden.
2. Hearing loss is exhausting.
I had experienced hearing loss exhaustion already, but the pandemic put the period full stop at the end of the sentence. The fear of not being able to understand adds to the exhaustion of each communication encounter — whether online or in person. My hearing loss confidence falters at times, but I am working to rebuild it by embracing new technologies including speech-to-text apps like Google’s Live Transcribe or Otter.ai and phone amplification apps like Ear Machine or Chatable.
3. Hearing loss is truly invisible.
Most people take their hearing for granted, so they assume everyone else can hear too. Waiters speak at the same volume despite being masked, as do doctors and nurses, and almost anyone else. This is only natural given their life experience, but for people with hearing loss, hearing is not something we do in the background while performing another activity. Hearing, or should I say understanding, is the activity.
Making our hearing loss more visible by self-identifying right away or wearing buttons or pins declaring our hearing problems is an important coping tool in our new masked world. As is visible advocacy. Our community must continue to demand the communication access tools we need to remain active participants in society during these unnerving times.
4. Self-care is critical for good hearing.
We all face many stressors in these unusual times that can impact our ability to cope with uncomfortable or difficult situations. This is no different for people with hearing loss. We must take time each day to care for ourselves. This means eating properly, exercising, getting enough sleep and setting aside time for relaxation and reflection. The stronger our body and mind, the more stamina and patience we will have to take on our next communication challenge.
5. Self-advocacy is the key to success.
Self-advocacy has always been the key to success with hearing loss and it continues to be. Once we identify ourselves as a person with hearing loss, we must let others know the specific things they can do to help us understand. The more detailed we are, the higher the chances are for successful communication. When asking for help, make your requests with a smile. Even if your smile is hidden behind your mask, the sound of your voice and your crinkling eyes may give it away. Everyone is struggling in these challenging times. When we ask for what we need with kindness, there is a much higher likelihood the person will do as we ask.
Readers, what have you learned about hearing loss during the pandemic?