The COVID-19 Pandemic has seen an increase in the use of face masks being used around the world to protect ourselves from coronavirus making it an effective barrier. Wearing face masks is the new normal, but it has raised a new challenge for persons with hearing loss and health care professionals dealing with these individuals.

How does wearing a face mask affect effective communication?

Although wearing a face mask reduces our risks of contracting the virus, it affects our ability to communicate, as it reduces access to non-verbal cues such as lip reading and facial expressions, not to mention decreasing the overall level of speech. 

What difficulties do hearing-impaired individuals face?

Understanding speech in the presence of noise is the main concern of a hearing-impaired individual. Hence they highly depend on lip-reading cues to determine the information the speaker is conveying. As this information is no more available to the hearing impaired individual, he/she has to put more cognitive effort to understand speech. This results in increased frustration, conversation avoidance, social isolation, anxiety, and depression, reducing the overall quality of life. There are probably many people with hearing loss who were able to manage but would struggle with the widespread use of masks.

What can we do to effectively communicate with a hearing impaired individual with masks?

It is important to identify whether the hearing impaired individual can understand what is being said. This can be facilitated by attracting the person’s attention while speaking to them. 

Always remember to speak slowly and with adequate loudness.

Determine if the person has heard and understood the message.

Transparent face masks, although they are not easily available in the market, family members of these individuals can custom make these to facilitate lip-reading cues.

Captioning for people with hearing loss.

Tools to help a hearing-impaired individual communicate effectively?

Hearing-impaired individuals can also take part in effective communication by 

Informing the speaker about their hearing impairment, asking for repetition whenever required, using speech-to-text apps, adopting video consultation and video communication strategies, communicating in a less noisy environment whenever possible are some ways. 

Let’s face it, Face masks are going to be around for a long time. Adopting simple strategies can help improve communication while more innovative strategies come up.