During the pandemic, we are told to wear face masks when we are in public and unable to social distance. It is for our protection as well as the safety of others. It is important to do it, but it makes communication very difficult for people with hearing loss for several reasons.
- Mask is blocking the sounds
According to an article in the Hearing Review, medical masks act as a low-pass acoustic filter for speech, weakening the high frequencies spoken by the wearer by up to 12 dB depending on the type of mask. The study concludes, “The speech quality degradation, in combination with room noise/reverberation and the absence of visual cues, renders speech close to unintelligible for many patients with hearing loss.”
- The ability to lip read is missing
While lip reading helps with the cues, the facial expressions help to find the emotion behind the words. With a mask, neither of these clues are available making it more taxing to organize the sounds into a meaningful word or phrase.
- The 2-metre social distancing rule
Along with wearing masks, people have been asked to physically distance from one another by maintaining a 2-metre distance from others when in public spaces. This rules helps reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus from one person to another, but it also makes it more difficult to hear since most hearing devices work best when they are within that distance from the source of the sound.
To help with communicating with people wearing masks
- Request clear masks it possible, this helps with lip reading cues. This of course is not always possible and clear masks are not readily available and can be
- Speech to text phone apps. There are several apps available for both iPhone & android. Make sure you hold the phone close to the speaker and ask them to articulate clearly
- Good old-fashioned pen and paper. Carry a pen and paper with you and ask people to write down what they are communicating.
- Use your smart phone as a notepad. Note apps are normally on all smart phones
More information regarding hearing loss and masks can be found