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With the global COVID-19 pandemic came a huge shift in our public appearances. The ubiquitous face mask helped reduce the spread of the airborne virus and protected essential workers from exposure. Without a doubt, wearing face masks helped reduce viral transmission, especially in indoor settings.
However, face masks do pose a challenge for those who struggle with hearing loss. Speech can already be difficult to detect and comprehend for people with hearing loss. Most face masks eliminate important clues that can be used to tell when someone is speaking and what they are saying. Additionally, sound that may already sound muted or muffled becomes increasingly so with the added barrier of a face mask.
Recognizing the added communication obstacles that face masks add for people with deafness and hearing loss, research is currently underway in the United Kingdom to develop a better design, conducive to sound while still effectively blocking particles that can transmit disease. Working in a coalition of materials experts, hearing health professionals and people affected by hearing loss, a team spearheaded by Dr. Michael Stone and professor Kevin Monroe are looking to develop a free or inexpensive reusable face mask better suited for verbal communication.
Winning a sizable grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, this research will hopefully bring increased accessibility to face coverings. Masks are designed for widespread use, to make speech clearer and hearing more available
For those looking for face masks that accommodate hearing loss, several options are currently available. One key breakthrough is opting for a face covering with a non-fogging clear panel that allows people to read lips while you are speaking. While clear panel masks do not necessarily improve sound conveyance, visible mouth movements act as an important comprehension clue for many people living with hearing loss. On a basic level, visible mouth movements make it easier to determine who is speaking. The nuances of mouth movements can be used to help parse what is being said and the tone it is being delivered in.
Face masks have been a key component of public health for the past year, but there is no doubt they can make interactions with others slower and more difficult. Many people living with untreated hearing loss report that face masks severely restrict their ability to comprehend the speech of others. With this in mind, it is important to consider how to be a better communicator while wearing a face mask.
First, make sure you have the attention of the person you are speaking to. Establish eye contact and don’t try to talk to someone who is not in your direct line of vision. With reduced verbal and visual cues, it may require a small gesture to get someone’s attention.
Be prepared to repeat yourself in conversation. Face masks make verbal conversations tricky and it may be hard for a person with hearing loss to comprehend what you are saying at the first pass. Slow your speech when wearing a mask and elevate your volume. If what you are saying is proving hard to comprehend for someone, try to rephrase your statement. Sometimes particular sounds are especially difficult to detect and rewording what you say can offer a clearer option.
Also, be prepared to write what you are saying. A simple pencil and paper on hand is one option, as is typing out what you are saying on your phone or digital device. Some smartphones can even do instant voice-to-text translation to best convey what you are saying with the fluidity of speech.
The Value of Hearing Aids
Navigating verbal space can be difficult with hearing loss, and doubly so in a world where face masks are a consistent and relevant part of our social interactions. Even as face mask solutions develop, one of the best options for better comprehension is using hearing aids. Hearing aids are designed to meet the specific needs of your hearing loss and help boost comprehension and reduce social and mental stress associated with hearing loss.
If your hearing is becoming a struggle, the first step is contacting us for a comprehensive hearing test. We can connect you with hearing solutions that meet the demands of the world today.