As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to surge worldwide, people might be wearing masks regularly for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, while masks are a positive step to reduce the spread of the virus, they may also make communication more difficult for those with hearing impairments. Thus, during these challenging times, it’s essential to learn how to communicate with hearing-impaired individuals.
Furthermore, those with hearing loss may not have the same resources as before, so being prepared to overcome some communication difficulties will be helpful for the future.
Communicating with Hearing Loss
As someone with a hearing impairment, you know how difficult it can be to understand people in loud environments. So if you’re trying to listen to someone speak when there’s lots of background noise, you might have a few tricks you use.
However, now that everyone is wearing masks, you may feel more isolated because communication has become more complex. Consider the following to help improve your communication.
1. Let others know about your condition
When you’re talking to someone, and you’re both wearing masks, start the conversation by saying you may have trouble understanding them. With awareness of your condition, people will be more accommodating. They will likely speak a little bit slower and clearer to help. They will also be willing to repeat sentences or words when or if you missed something.
2. Ask to move somewhere quieter while you speak
If you’re conversing with someone, you may want to ask them if you guys can move somewhere that’s not so loud. While communicating with hearing loss and masks is difficult, it will be even more challenging if you’re in a noisy environment. Moving to a quiet place to talk benefits all parties involved as nobody has to struggle to speak or listen.
3. Download apps that may help you communicate
Another option is to download speech-to-text apps. For example, when you’re going to some professional appointment, you may want to communicate as prepared as possible. Using speech-to-text apps can streamline communication for both parties. Such apps include Ava, Google Live Transcribe, and Otter.ai.
4. Keep Paper and Pen with You
A great option to assist with communication is simply writing things down. Whenever you’re trying to give out or receive essential information, like numbers or addresses, ask someone to write them down. Trying to listen and remember someone’s phone number or address was already tricky before COVID-19. By writing information down, you can be sure you have the correct information.
How to Communicate with a Hearing Impaired Child
In the past, the best way to communicate with children that have hearing impairments is through facial expressions and gestures. However, as masks make that nearly impossible, you have to use alternative methods to get your message across.
First, you should always be sure the child is aware you’re talking to them. Talk slowly, clearly, and repeat as often as necessary. The best way to ensure the child is engaged and listening are by involving them more in the conversation. Frequently ask questions and make sure the child understands what you say.
If you’re struggling to communicate effectively with a child, consider using pictures, drawings, or written words. Methods such as these can involve the child more and ensure they’re focused and getting the message. Lastly, always respond to their inquiries, smile (even through your mask, as they may see), and encourage further communication.
Communicating with Hearing Impaired Elderly
In the US, nearly one-third of adults over 65 have some degree of hearing loss. For those over 75 years old, roughly 50 percent are affected by hearing loss. That means the elderly population in the US and elsewhere may have more difficulty communicating than others.
Many individuals with hearing impairments use cues, facial expressions, and even read lips to help understand what is spoken. Now, with everyone wearing masks, you’re not afforded those same cues. So no more lip-reading, smiles, frowns, friendly gestures, and more. Instead, the following tips can help you learn how to talk to a hearing-impaired person.
When you want to speak to someone with a hearing impairment, you should attempt to get their attention before you begin a conversation. Directly face the individual you wish to talk to, and while you should still social distance for COVID-19, you should not be talking to someone from across the room. Once the person is aware you want to talk to them, you can speak slowly, clearly, and naturally. Try not to speak too slow, but do not speak quickly where you begin to slur your words together.
If you begin to notice the individual is having difficulty understanding you, pay attention to your surroundings. Maybe there are too many other people speaking nearby or other noises.
Furthermore, someone with a hearing impairment may have one ear that can hear better than the other. Try to accommodate that. You can ask the individual who you’re speaking with if they understand or need you to repeat something. Additionally, you can use your hands and body language to deliver messages rather than facial expressions.
If you need to learn how to communicate with a deaf person and have no sign language interpreter, you’ll have to follow similar tips. For example, there are various apps you can use that convert speech to text. Or you can write down the information yourself. Likely, someone who is deaf or has a severe hearing impairment may come ready with tools to help communicate.
Face Masks for Hearing Impaired
As face masks cover one’s mouth and noise, understanding speech and facial expressions can be quite the challenge. To overcome these issues, several groups have begun to make facemasks that are see-through.
For example, clear COVID-19 masks are entirely transparent so that anyone can see other’s mouths and facial expressions. Thus, using a clear mask can significantly improve communication for both the speaker and the listener.