By Dr. Noël Crosby, Au.D.
The dynamics of communication has changed while protective masks are being worn. I encourage people to be mindful of those with hearing loss while wearing masks. Six feet away social distancing is difficult for everyone, especially those with hearing loss. The combination of protective masks and social distancing disrupts the vital visual and auditory input people with hearing loss need to communicate effectively. Here is a list of ideas that could make this difficult issue a little easier for everyone. Keep in mind there’s no one-size-fits-all solution; different situations may require a unique mix of strategies and, even then, you might not achieve a satisfactory result.
Prepare in advance to keep interactions short, determine what can be handled or researched or purchased in advance and delivered to your home. Share information or ask your questions in advance by email, phone or video call. If safe and permitted, bring a trusted friend or family member.
Determine how you want to self-disclose and advocate for your communication needs. Prepare a handwritten sign or message on paper indicating you can’t hear well when masks are worn so that others will be more apt to assist with your communication needs than assume you’re ignoring them or being rude. Provide specific directions on how they can help your communication needs.
Practice and exercise communication strategies. Anticipate the types of communication exchanges that will likely happen given your setting and context. Ask the other person to communicate slightly louder and slower. Adjusting the volume of your hearing device higher or lower (if noisy) could help. Always bring paper and pens as a back up. Request rephrasing if you’ve already asked twice to have information repeated, use gestures and hand signs like “thumbs up.” And, remember to look at the eyes for non-verbal clues.
Try out and use smartphone apps that can help facilitate communication. Consider using a speech-to-text app on your smartphone or pair your phone with a wireless or a plug in microphone compatible with your device to improve its pickup of speech at distance.
Prepopulate digital flashcard apps (or paper index cards) with information and phrases that can help minimize unexpected questions or comments. This can be done with apps, for example, one phrase you may find helpful to have prepared in advance is “I read lips and cannot see your mouth. Please speak in the direction of my phone so the app can transcribe your speech.”
Consider using assistive listening devices that can extend a hearing aid or cochlear implant’s range in picking up spoken language at a distance. Some examples include a Phonak Roger Pen or a portable FM device. Contact your audiologist to learn more about what options would work best for you. is best for you.
Prevent loss of your hearing device when mask wearing. One of the best solutions is to fasten your mask behind your head, not over your ears. This can not only help prevent a hearing device from being dislodged when removing the mask, it may make your mask more comfortable to wear. I do have inexpensive plastic behind the head mask fasteners available for sale in my office.
You can also secure a hearing device on the ear with eye glass straps or OtoClips pinned or clipped to clothing on one end and the other end hooked to a behind-the-ear or receiver-in-canal hearing aid style. Adhesives such as wig tape or other commercially available products designed to secure hearing aids might help as well.
During this challenging time, my advice is to take a moment to think of how we can be patient with those who are struggling with hearing loss. Keep in mind that the stress and anxiety level for those who have hearing loss has increased during this time of mask wearing and social distancing. Remember, practicing patience and kindness to everyone, not only those with hearing loss is quite important in today’s world.
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Dr. Noël Crosby, Au.D., owner and audiologist at Advanced Hearing Solutions in Englewood, FL is a licensed professional whose 30 year career has been devoted to helping people of all ages hear and understand more clearly. Dr. Crosby received her BS and MS degrees from FSU and her Doctorate in Audiology from UF. Her credibility as an authority grew during her tenure as the Director of Audiology at the Silverstein Institute in Sarasota, FL from 1991-1998. Today, in addition to managing a successful audiology practice, Dr. Crosby is involved in creating hearing loss awareness through her jewelry and accessory company AuDBling.com. She has served and is serving on various professional boards and committees and was president of the Florida Academy of Audiology in 2000 and 2010. She has been married to Michael for 28 years and has one daughter.