Masks make it hard for everyone to hear — hearing loss or not — but if you are struggling to hear more than the average person, it may not just be the mask, it may be your hearing. Hearing loss often comes on gradually, making it hard to notice at first. It may seem like everyone has started mumbling or the speakers on the television have stopped working properly. It can be upsetting and frustrating, especially since it now takes more effort to communicate effectively. Conversing with people with masks will make it harder still, since you are losing important clues like facial expression and lip movements that you may have been using to decipher speech.
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.
Providing accessibility accommodations that work for both the Deaf and Hearing Loss communities can be a challenge. This is clear to anyone with a hearing loss who requested captioning but was provided with a sign language interpreter instead. For most people with hearing difficulties, including me, a sign language interpreter provides no assistance.
But as I learned at an interesting panel discussion hosted by the Museum, Arts and Culture Access Consortium (MAC), a group whose mission is to promote access and inclusion at cultural institutions in the NY metro area, the reverse is also true. According to a Deaf panelist, captioning is not helpful for many members of the Deaf community, especially school aged children under the age of 15.
COVID-19 has disrupted hearing health care, potentially for the better. Both audiologists and patients have needed to adapt. In my latest article for Ida Institute, I provide my suggestions for how providers can best partner with their patients during this difficult time. Practicing person-centered care will not only help providers forge strong relationships with patients during this time of crisis, it will help patients develop the self-care skills they will need for success with their hearing health for years to come. To read the full article click here.
When you have hearing loss, understanding speech does not come naturally. It takes effort. The clues we get from lip movements and facial expressions are almost as important as the sounds that are amplified by our hearing devices. We must look as well as listen in order to hear. Masks, while necessary and important for public health, make this process more challenging.
In my post, Masks Are the Latest Obstacle for People With Hearing Loss I share more information about the difficulties we face while communicating with masks and some helpful tips for combatting these issues, but in this post, I want to explore the ways we can successfully communicate these challenges to others so we can get the assistance that we need. My recent visit to the post office is a perfect case study.