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4 Tips for Communicating With People With Hearing Loss During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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I wear bright blue hearing aids in both ears, and if you know me, you’ve heard all about them. I love the tiny devices very much because they allow me to overcome my hearing loss in most situations. However, there is one situation where even my aids don’t fully help me — in the doctor’s offices during COVID-19.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my doctors didn’t wear masks during routine check-ups and neither did my friends. Now, it seems like everyone is wearing masks. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. Why does this matter? Well, 55 percent of communication is visual and I’m struggling because masks cover people’s faces, which prevents me from being able to read lips. Not only does this make conversation harder with grocery store employees when I can’t find the soup, but it is also leading to miscommunication with my medical providers because I cannot pick up what they are saying. I want to understand what is being said. I mean, am I getting a shot? Or do I feel hot? These are very different and I have a right to know!

I’m not the only individual who needs visual cues. Some medical staff and scientists have hearing difficulties and they need to see each other from across the room. Pediatric patients, as well as elderly patients, benefit from seeing facial expressions and lips. Lastly, I’d imagine those experiencing stress and anxiety can also benefit from seeing the person speaking. We miss out on the smiles when wearing a mask.

Now, I’m not telling everyone to take off their masks. I’m asking you to help me and anyone else who needs visual input. If you follow these three tips during COVID-19, you are making a difference.

1) Speak slowly. If I can’t see your lips, I’m having to rely solely on my ears. It’s hard. So please speak a little bit slower because it can help a lot.

2) Enunciate. Sometimes words that mesh together are easy to pick up when looking at the person, but not so easy when I can’t see the speaker’s face.

3) Ask if I understood. I won’t be offended. If you give me the option to say I don’t understand, that takes the weight off my shoulders. Thanks, because no, I didn’t catch what you said.

4) If you’re a medical professional, offer to wear a clear mask. There is such a thing! There are masks that have been designed so they show the lips and cheeks. This is a lifesaver for me when they are available.

Don’t worry deafies, the pandemic will eventually end and we will re-gain our ability to read lips. I can’t wait for the day when I can smile at that stranger in the park, because my eyes don’t do anyone justice.

Are you in? Can you help another person by speaking slower, enunciating and checking in?

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by Yulia Sutyagina.

Originally published: April 13, 2020
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