For all the benefits they provide, face masks present some unique – and frustrating – communication challenges for those who suffer from hearing loss. Picking up a prescription, checking out at the grocery store, or thanking your delivery driver all become a little more challenging when you can’t hear through masks because the layer of fabric over your mouth effectively muffles your voice. Yet, masks are crucial to protecting your health and the health of those around you, and will likely remain part of our lives for the next few months.
To help individuals with hearing loss communicate more effectively while wearing masks, the following are tips you can follow to make conversations clearer while keeping everyone safe in the process.
Although the human voice is muffled by wearing a mask, it’s reassuring because it means your mask is providing a suitable barrier against virus droplets and germ particles. But that’s not the only way masks make communicating more challenging for someone who suffers from hearing loss.
Masks also interfere with non-verbal communication cues, which individuals with hearing loss rely on to help supplement comprehension. When speakers wear masks, it’s impossible to read lips or pick up facial cues. This can diminish the effectiveness of communication by causing inconveniences for both parties, which makes it tempting to take masks off during conversations.
Thankfully, some hearing aid manufacturers have begun providing hearing devices with a mask mode. When activated, mask mode alters the way the hearing aid functions – the hearing aid’s software clears the distortion caused by the mask. As a result, individuals using mask mode can hear voices more clearly when listening to someone who’s wearing a mask.
Mask mode is controlled via a smartphone. It’s likely that additional manufacturers will soon develop similar functions for their hearing aids. In this way, hearing aids are helping those with hearing loss adapt to daily mask-wearing.
Mask mode on hearing aids has several important benefits:
- In some cases, mask mode uses technology already integrated into your hearing aid (where available), so it’s simply a matter of turning the feature on.
- Mask mode can be easily turned on and off, so if the filtering algorithm isn’t working for you, you can quickly turn it off.
- You can avoid unnecessarily long, drawn-out conversations that are due to communication difficulties.
- You can keep your mask on and still understand what’s being said – and neither you nor the person you’re talking to will be tempted to remove your masks.
- Assuming your hearing aid is already equipped with the technology necessary for mask mode, there’s no additional expense.
Other Tips to Help with Communication
Of course, not every hearing aid is ready for mask mode because the noise filtering technology is complex and relatively sophisticated. But there are some low-tech things you can do to facilitate good communication when can’t hear through masks –especially if you suffer from hearing loss or you’re talking to someone with hearing loss.
Some of the best tricks include asking your conversation partner to:
- Slow down: Fast-talking is difficult to decipher under normal circumstances – but fast-talking through a mask is nearly impossible to understand. Ask the person speaking to slow down, which will give you a better chance of understanding what’s being said.
- Use different words: Repetition is not going to make communication easier. Hearing loss tends to impact specific frequencies, so certain words or sounds are always going to be more difficult to hear. Ask the person speaking to rephrase the statement, which will give you a better chance of understanding it.
- Avoid shouting: When you ask someone to repeat something (especially if you ask him or her to speak more slowly), the person will likely raise his or her voice. This tactic is frustratingly universal. Unfortunately, shouting is not conducive to helping you hear more clearly! Ask him or her to speak quietly, but clearly, to give your ears the chance to decipher the sounds they’re hearing.
Helping You Keep Your Mask On
Whether you’re ordering food through a drive-through window or speaking with your pharmacist about your medications, clear communication is essential. The purpose of these strategies and technologies is pretty simple: they’re designed to help you keep your mask on and remain healthy.
These low-tech strategies and high-tech solutions will help ensure you stay safe while hearing important conversations clearly when you can’t hear through masks.