Masks Continue to Unmask Hearing Loss

Mask are revealing hearing loss. People can’t deny it as much as they used to. The requests at work for hearing loss help in the last 6 months has probably been equal to the previous two years all together. People want to know where they can get hearing aids, they are requesting cochlear implant information, asking about speech to text technology, clear masks and more. You can find some of the resources here on the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard Hearing website.

Not only do mask block our lipreading abilities, they can distort sound and decrease volume. Tina Childress, AuD, wrote about the effects of speech with masks. It’s a lot harder to fake it these days.

The best resource continues to be other hard of hearing people. At work we have a weekly Coffee Chat to support those with hearing loss we started online when the pandemic struck. It gathers people with various hearing losses from Utah and other states. We all have a hearing loss but we are not all the same, which is kinda cool and offers variety. Some wear hearing aids, some do not. Some have cochlear implants, others rely on lipreading. Some are new on their journey with hearing loss and others much more experienced. No matter where we are, we are all new on the is path of communicating with masks. One things for sure, we are all struggling to find out what will work best and we are all helping each other with suggestions.

Building a network of hard of hearing friends has been incredibly helpful. We find out we aren’t alone and we can stay on top of the latest information through each other. We share how we approach grocery store clerks, get accommodations, using speech to text apps, how much gestures can help and more.

My personal mission this week was to order clear face masks, which I did finally, from two different companies. This became my goal last week after I ran into a situation while traveling with my husband. I have been using the solid face masks. He too wears solid face masks everywhere he goes. We went into a Subway…ugh! The endless questions! It’s my last resort for eating out because of that. My husband was ‘hearing’ for me and repeating what she said through his mask. (He will not lower his mask in public.) I stared at him blankly. He said it louder and I tried not to watch the space where his mouth is and tried focusing on what I could hear instead using some anticipation strategies. It was a huge struggle to get my sandwich completed and thank goodness the girl saw my hearing aids and starting gesturing. I walked out of there thinking I HAVE TO get him a clear mask because this is not going to work.

That was another topic in the last Coffee Chat, how we give up control to hearing family members and things become more botched than when we are by ourselves. If I had been by myself, I would have broken out my speech to text app. I did not even think of that in the middle of that communication disaster, I will next time. Earlier in that day, I did Panera for the first time ever while alone and successfully made an order after speech to text, writing it on paper and then her resorting to tapping it out on her phone. It took longer but it worked! I felt more accomplished too.

Clear masks are on a lot of hard of hearing people’s minds so that is another question I’m asked at work often. Work was good enough to buy us some face masks with clear windows however the window is too small for my liking. When I’m talking to other hard of hearing people, I often end up taking the mask off.

Other state Deaf and Hard of Hearing offices have also helped. The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a list of different resources for masks, click on the Face Mask Dilemma! Be sure to check out the link for tips on keeping a clear face mask from fogging up. They are also encouraging people to make clear face masks and share them with the community.

Massachusetts Deaf and Hard of Hearing office create a wonderful hospital communication card because you know health care workers will be wearing masks.

I’ll share my clear mask trial results soon. What are your favorite resources during this pandemic? I think it’s best when we all work together during these tough times.

Here is the mask I wear currently. It’s sort of our joke in the hard of hearing program, a take on lipreading. Read my lips! I get compliments in stores all the time for this mask. There was a time I thought I lost my ‘smile’ and then I found it again. I’ll be replacing it soon with a clear mask, hopefully, to educate more people.

Other interesting articles on masks and hearing loss:

The Reality of Listening Fatigue in a World of Masks

5 Things COVID-19 Taught Me About Hearing Loss

I Hear What I See: The Mask-Hearing Loss Dilemma

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