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Hearing & Balance Doctors is currently open. We are taking special measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including offering a curbside service for hearing aids. Please call 435-688-8991 for more information. Utah: 435-688-8991 | Nevada: 702-896-0031
Hearing & Balance Doctors is currently open. We are taking special measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including offering a curbside service for hearing aids. Please call 435-688-8991 for more information. Utah: 435-688-8991 | Nevada: 702-896-0031

Audiologist Advice: Communicating While Wearing Masks

Audiologist Advice Communicating While Wearing Masks

We’re already living in uncertain times, and now masks are causing more uncertainty and confusion for those with hearing impairments. Masks have created an additional obstacle when trying to communicate during your everyday life — making it impossible to take visual cues from lipreading or expressions. While this is an annoyance for everyone, it makes it nearly impossible for those who are hard of hearing to communicate.

The audiologists at Hearing & Balance Doctors have put together a list of tips to help everyone communicate more effectively.

How Face Masks Are a Communication Barrier

Face masks and other personal protection equipment offer the following challenges for those with hearing loss:

  • Masks muffle and distort speech – Whether you have hearing loss or not, masks can make it extremely difficult to hold a conversation when in a noisy public place like a grocery store or restaurant. So when hearing impairments are involved, a mask can make it nearly impossible for that person to have a normal conversation in a loud, public space. The speaker’s voice will often be muffled, distorted, or inaudible through the mask.
  • Masks hide facial expressions – Now more than ever it has become apparent just how important facial expressions are for helping those with hearing loss to understand the context of what someone is saying or signing. With a mask on, more than half of your face is covered — only showing your eyes and forehead. When face masks block important visual or lipreading cues, it’s harder for someone with hearing loss to understand the meaning of what they’re being told.
  • Masks hinder interpersonal communication – Similar to hiding facial expressions, masks make it impossible to communicate with someone using only your face. Whether you were satisfied with something and want to convey that with a smile or you are unhappy with a service and are frowning, your expression is completely blocked by a mask.

Unable to hear speech or see someone’s facial expression, someone who is hard of hearing might be left completely unaware that someone is trying to communicate with them — making them feel even more isolated in an already isolating world.

How to Effectively Communicate While Wearing a Mask

During these uncertain times, masks are mandatory in nearly all public spaces such as grocery stores, office buildings, restaurants, and more. While everyone is required to wear a mask, there are some steps you can take to ensure you’re communicating effectively with friends and family (and strangers!) that might be hard of hearing. Follow these tips to ensure you’re communicating more clearly with a mask on:

  • Use visual cues to get someone’s attention – If you try to get someone’s attention while wearing a mask and it doesn’t seem like they heard you, try using a hand gesture like a wave to grab their attention. Those who are dealing with hearing loss are often relying on visual cues to communicate, and while they can’t see your face fully, they will need more blatant cues to grab their attention.
  • Speak louder and annunciate more clearly – Masks and other personal protective equipment like plastic barriers at grocery stores can make it very difficult to hear. When communicating with someone hard of hearing, speak more loudly than you normally would. The mask is going to tone the volume back a bit, and you need to ensure you are heard. Similarly, speak more slowly than you normally would so you can annunciate what you’re saying to avoid having the mask muffle your speech.
  • Use gestures and visual cues when needed – Depending on the environment you’re in, it might be nearly impossible to hear speech is there is a lot of chatter or background now. Even if you don’t know sign language, you can use gestures while speaking to help communicate what you are trying to convey.
  • Write out what you’re trying to say – Sometimes it will be impossible to communicate over background noise, and if what you’re trying to say is more complex, it might be too difficult to try to gesture your way through it. Keep a small notepad and pen on you or use your phone to write out what you trying to say. This will make the situation a lot less stressful because you will both be able to communicate exactly what you’re trying to say without any confusion or misunderstanding.
  • Invest in a clear face mask – As a way to help those that are hard of hearing, there are clear face masks you can purchase that make it possible for people to see your facial expressions or read your lips. A clear face mask is great for teachers, restaurant workers, or those who might come into contact with individuals with hearing impairments.
  • Exercise patience in public scenarios – Everyone is having trouble communicating clearly while wearing masks, and you might not realize at first that you are speaking with someone hard of hearing. Be patient as you communicate with them and determine their preferred method to communicate. Everyone is different and some might prefer to speak out loud, use sign language or gestures, or write it out.

Having Trouble Hearing? Schedule an Appointment with Hearing & Balance Doctors

During these uncertain times, we don’t have the luxury of using lipreading or expressions for context cues. If you’ve found it extremely difficult to communicate and clearly understand those around you while wearing a mask, we recommend scheduling a diagnostic hearing evaluation. Our skilled team of audiologists at Hearing & Balance Doctors can help you determine what the problem is and provide a solution to make communication more efficient. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

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