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Overcoming the communication barrier a mask poses to the hearing impaired



MONROE, La.— Governor Edwards says it’s good to wear a mask when you’re out in public to protect yourself from COVID-19. But how does wearing a mask affect those who are hearing impaired. Before wearing a mask, speech and sound were easy to understand, but with the mask, the sound is muffled, and reading lips when someone is talking is impossible.

Hearing specialists say wearing a mask causes us to lose 10 decibels of speech when talking.

“To put that in perspective, when we make adjustments on hearing aids, we might do a two decibel increase or decrease, or four, or maybe even six decibels would be a substantial change in sound, so 10 decibels is night and day,” said Jason Shevchuk, Hearing Instrument Specialist at Audibel Hearing Center.

And while wearing a mask impacts how we hear each other, it also affects those who wear glasses, hearing aids, and a mask.

“When we take our mask off, our hearing aids always just have a tendency to flip off with them, so when wearing a hearing aid, and a mask, and glasses we have to be very careful not to lose our units–or are hearing aids,” said Cherry Phillips, Hearing Specialist at Audibel Hearing Center.

Sound is not only muffled in communication with others, it can even be muffled when hearing your own voice talk.

“It does change my voice some. Because now I’m hearing my own voice in a little bit of a different way, it’s kind of pushed back on me verses my voice going out forward and when you wear a hearing you aid, you kind of have some of that anyways,” said Phillips.

So what can we do to work with those who might be hearing impaired and need more communication right now?

“More body language, more use of the hands is not a bad idea. The eyes tell a lot of the story–some visual in flexion if you will. Speaking more slow, slowly,” said Shevchuk.

Hearing specialists say we don’t realize how often we read people’s lips until that option is eliminated by wearing a mask. If there is some loss of communication by the mask, body language is the most important thing to convey.