Primary Care

How COVID-19 Impacts the Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Community

Clinical audiologist Lindsay Saltsman, Au. D. explains how the deaf community can improve communication while wearing masks.

Oct. 5, 2020 4   min read

Deaf man wearing face mask

Communication and mask-wearing amidst the coronavirus pandemic prove to be a continued challenge for those with loss of hearing. Much of the hard-of-hearing community relies heavily on lip-reading and hearing aids, but with guidelines that require mask-wearing, difficulties can arise when it comes to wearing hearing aids and communicating effectively.

Rochester Regional Health clinical audiologist Lindsay Saltsman, Au. D. explains the difficulties those in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community are facing and provides advice on how people can better communicate.

Wearing a mask with hearing aids

Hearing aids are worn around the ear—but so are masks. This means that those who wear hearing aids everyday are faced with extra struggles when it comes to wearing a mask.

“Since most masks are worn around the ears, there are a few issues that arise for those who wear hearing aids. They may lose them or experience increased discomfort from having too much behind their ear,” said Dr. Saltsman.

Dr. Saltsman recommends a few different strategies to make sure those who wear hearing aids don’t misplace them.

1. Make sure the mask fits properly: If a mask is too small, it will pull your ears forward. Be sure to wear masks that are the correct size to reduce the risk of hearing aids falling off.

2. Thinner straps are better: If the straps of a mask are thick, it will take up more room behind the ear. Something smaller will give the hearing aid more space.

3. Try masks that tie around head: Masks that don’t have to wrap around the ears are better for those with hearing aids because the mask doesn’t interfere with them or knock them off.

4. Remove mask properly: Be hyper-aware when removing a mask. Make sure to feel around for the hearing aid and avoid pulling it off with the mask strings.

“It’s a good idea to wait until you’re in your car or at home before removing your mask. That way, if your hearing aids fall off, they’re in your space and not lost in public.” 

How masks affect communication

Face masks can be an obstacle when it comes to verbal communication. Since a mask covers the mouth and much of the face, it takes away the ability to observe lip-movement and facial expressions.

“Body language and lip-reading are important in improving communication. That’s why being face-to-face with someone is so helpful, especially for those with hearing loss,” said Dr. Saltsman.

In a time where everyone is encouraged to stay socially distant and wear a mask, communication is much more difficult than usual for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Communication with hard-of-hearing community when wearing a mask

There is plenty you can do to improve communication and make it less difficult for those who are hard-of-hearing. Alongside being understanding and patient, here are a few recommendations from Dr. Saltsman on how to help those with hearing loss:

Reduce background noise

Go to a quiet place to have a conversation and avoid having music or television noise on in the room.

“It's harder for anybody to hear when a lot is going on in the background, especially people with hearing loss. Extra noise affects the ability to hear even when wearing hearing aids.”

Rephrase, don’t repeat

Often when you are talking to someone with a loss of hearing they will ask you to say something over again. If this happens, it’s best to rephrase what you just said rather than repeat it word for word.

“If you’re asked to repeat something, they likely couldn’t understand what you said due to the nature of their hearing loss. In some cases, it’s because they can’t read your lips. If you rephrase what you said using different words, they’re more likely to understand.”

Talk a little louder and slower

Most people talk at a fast pace. For someone dependent on hearing aids or lip reading to communicate with you, speaking fast or mumbling can make it harder for them to get your message. Talking a little slower and speaking up can help improve communication.

With the many changes the coronavirus pandemic has caused, communication can be difficult for anyone, especially those with a loss of hearing. It can be tempting to want to pull down your mask to communicate, but it’s important to avoid doing that unless you are at least 6 feet apart and outside.

Remember, being understanding and patient with each other is important-- now more than ever.

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