In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are recommending that individuals above a certain age wear a mask in public and maintain strict social distancing guidelines. While it is important to do this in order to maintain the safety of the community, it can make communicating difficult, especially for the hearing-impaired community.
The masks can muffle sound and make it difficult to hear higher pitched sounds. Many people that are hard of hearing rely on reading lips to decipher what is being said during a conversation. Masks cover up lips and they can also make it hard to read facial expressions, which are oftentimes studied to gauge tone/meaning.
The physical distance we must maintain can also complicate communication. Even if individuals aren’t wearing masks, the recommended six-feet distance can make it hard to read lips or expressions. The distance also means that the sound of someone’s voice will be quieter and it’s easier for background noises to filter in. With the social distancing guidelines in place, it is recommended that individuals lean in closer to hear better.
Tips for Improving Communication
One of the ways in which individuals can combat mask communication difficulties is by investing in a clear face mask, wearing a face shield instead of a mask, or relying on plexiglass as a divider. The sound may still be muffled, but it takes away the problem of lip-reading or trying to decipher facial expressions.
When distance is the problem, communicators have to work a little harder to keep their speaking partner’s attention. Face your speaking partner with no barriers in-between and speak in a quiet place if possible. Talk louder and slower than you normally would, and if you don’t normally talk with your hands, now might be the time to use helpful gestures as you talk. Be sure to ask your partner if they can hear you clearly.