Deaf and Hard of Hearing With Masks and Barriers

In my family, being deaf and hard of hearing is more common than not.  Now, those with hearing impairment are experiencing new challenges brought on by the Coronavirus.

My entire life I have been taught that when speaking to others, I need to face them.  That would ensure they could see my lips and be able to articulate what I was saying.  I had to speak loudly so the other person would not need to guess the words I was speaking.

Many of my deaf or hard of hearing family members began to use other ways to receive conversation.  For example, they would read the other person’s lips.  In recent years I have also developed this skill as I have found it hard to hear others and rather than asking them to speak louder, I compensate.  It has become easier to decipher what they are saying by reading lips.

Two young people communicating in protective face masks outside

A new challenge for the deaf and hard of hearing people

Due to the onset of the Coronavirus, it is becoming increasingly common for individuals to wear masks.  Not only for professions where they are required to do but also in public areas as well.  Individuals working in helping professions are now being required to wear masks a large majority of the time.

Can wearing a mask affect your hearing? In my experience, auditory or hearing is the sense that is the most affected by this new practice.

Personally knowing several people who have had to adjust to this new barrier, I can say it has become much harder to understand what everyone else is saying. According to a research, “Communication With Face Masks During the COVID-19 Pandemic for Adults With Hearing Loss” by Brenda T. Poon and Lorienne M. Jenstad (2022), 80% of survey respondents of people who are hard of hearing had difficulty communicating with face masks 1.  Although masks are being used to protect us, it is now more difficult than ever for people with hearing loss to engage in conversation or understand what is being said.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Although speaking louder and articulating seems like something we should all do, it is not a consideration that many have had for the hearing-impaired individuals in our community.  With that in mind, I created this downloadable, printable sign for those who experience difficulty hearing.

Virtual sign for individuals that have difficulty hearing.

My inspiration for the idea came from my aunt. She had been struggling to hear and understanding others, even more so lately, and she asked for my help in solving her dilemma. She felt like a broken record, always asking others to speak louder.  I wanted to do something to help not only my aunt but anyone in the deaf and hard of hearing community who may benefit from this.

In these uncertain times, if we can help each other, we should. Always remember, be kind, patient and most of all, be human.

Potential deaf or hard of hearing mask solution

Since we first published this blog post, face masks with a clear section have been created.  These may be a helpful alternative solution.  However, note that the glare on the shield area can still be a barrier.  Therefore, consider using the sign attached above. And always follow the public health guidelines in your area for mask use or the types of masks to wear. For more suggestions on ways to improve communication with mask-wearing, check out ASHA’s tips!

Continue to practice patience and kindness in communicating.

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  1. Poon, B. T., & Jenstad, L. M. (2022). Communication With Face Masks During the COVID-19 Pandemic for Adults With Hearing Loss. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 7(1).
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