In this Era of Face Masks: Ideas for Better Communication with Hearing Loss

Face masks pose communication difficulties to people with hearing lossMastering communication while face masks are worn while social distancing six feet away is difficult for everyone, especially those with hearing loss. This combination disrupts the vital visual and auditory input people with hearing loss need to communicate effectively.

To help, the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) has developed a list of ideas to make this difficult issue a little easier. Scroll down to read our 10 Tips for Managing Face Masks and Hearing Loss.

We also hosted a May 4th webinar on this topic featuring CHC’s clinical staff. Please click below to view the informative video facilitated by CHC’s Executive Director, Laurie Hanin.

View Face Masks and Hearing Loss video

Ten Tips for Managing Face Masks and Hearing Loss

Keep in mind there’s no one-size-fits-all solution; different situations may require a unique mix of strategies and, even then, you might not achieve a satisfactory result. We recognize this is uncomfortable and emotionally trying, but remember that what we’re all going through is temporary, and CHC is available to provide support. 

Preparation, Advocacy and Communication Strategies

  1. Prepare in advance to keep interactions short, increase your comprehension and reserve your energy. Determine what can be handled, researched or purchased and delivered to your home. Share information or ask your questions in advance by email, phone or video call. If safe and permitted, bring a trusted friend or family member. Replace batteries or charge hearing aids to ensure working prior to going out.
  2. Determine how you want to self-disclose and advocate for your communication needs. Prepare a handwritten sign or message on paper (or digitally, see Tip #5) indicating you can’t hear well when masks are worn so that others will be more apt to help than assume you’re ignoring them or being rude. Provide specific direction on how they can help.
  3. Practice and exercise communication strategies. Anticipate the types of communication exchanges that will likely transpire given the setting and context. Ask the other person to communicate slightly louder and slower. Adjust the volume of your hearing device higher or lower (if noisy) could help. Always bring paper and pens as a back up. Request rephrasing if you’ve already asked twice to repeat the information, use gestures and hand signs like “thumbs up.” And, remember to look at the eyes for non-verbal clues.

 Technology for Facilitating Communication and Enhancing Audio

  1. Try out and use smartphone apps that can help facilitate communication. Consider speech-to-text apps such as Google Live Transcribe (Android Only), Ava and Otter and pair with a wireless microphone such as Alead Nolan LiveMIC2  or a plug in microphone compatible with your smartphone to improve its pickup of speech at distance.
  2. Prepopulate digital flashcard apps (or paper index cards) with information and phrases that can help minimize unexpected questions or comments. This can be done with apps such as BuzzCards , Cardzilla for iPhone or Cardzilla for Android Phone, or Big Note for iPhone or  Big Note for Android Phone. For example, one phrase you may find helpful to have prepared in advance is “I read lips and cannot see your mouth. Please speak in the direction of my phone so the app can transcribe your speech.”
  3. Consider using assistive listening devices that can extend a hearing aid or cochlear implant’s range in picking up spoken language at a distance. Some examples include a Phonak Roger Pen or a portable FM device. Reach out to your audiologist to learn more about which option is best for you.

 Wearing Face Masks with Hearing Devices

  1. Prevent loss of your hearing device when mask wearing. Secure a hearing device on the ear with eye glass straps or OtoClips (pinned or clipped to clothing on one end and the other end hooked onto the the behind-the-ear or receiver-in-canal hearing aid styles). Adhesives such as wig tape or other commercially available products designed to secure hearing aids might help as well.
  1. Put face masks on and off carefully to avoid dislodging and potentially losing your hearing device. For tie-back style masks, pull cords up in front of hearing devices and tie at top of head or run cords below the front of the ear and tie around neck. With masks that have elastic ties, pull the stretchy cords away from and off the ear and secure both ends at top of head with a string, linked paperclips, a strip of Velcro, or secure to a button sewed onto either side of a cloth headband. You can see these techniques demonstrated 8 minutes and 30 seconds into the Face Masks and Hearing Loss video.
  2. Request clear masks are worn when inventory becomes more readily available or make your own. The FDA registered face mask, The Communicator Surgical Mask, is on back order through mid-May. It is likely other manufacturers are exploring the design of and production of clear masks to meet demand. Meanwhile, consider constructing your own clear masks and provide to those with whom you interact with in everyday situations. Search YouTube and Google for instructions and patterns.

Emotional Health

  1. Be mindful of the range of emotions you may experience before, during and after interactions where masks are worn. Acknowledge the anxiety and stress from anticipating and experiencing difficult exchanges. Solicit support from understanding family or friends. Know that surprises happen and may throw off your plan. Be flexible and as gentle with yourself as possible, practice self-care, breathe and remember this is temporary.

Remember, most people want to help ease communication. Advocate by explaining how they can help you. If you would like to discuss this with one of our staff members at CHC, whether you are a current client or not, please reach out by email or phone.  For the NY office, call 917-305-7700 or for the Florida office, 954-601-1930. We are here to provide guidance and support. Also, if you have tips to add, please send them our way to share with our readers.

Survey for Webinar Participants

Those of you who attended the live webinar and have not yet taken our brief survey are invited to do so now. We appreciate your feedback!

Take the Survey (Webinar Attendees Only) »

Related Resources

To learn more about how face masks hinder communication, check out How Do Medical Masks Degrade Speech Reception in The Hearing Journal, April, 2020.

Check out the New York Post’s Masks are Making it Difficult for Deaf People to Communicate (including excerpts from an interview with yours truly).

While social distancing keeps us apart, videoconferencing continues to be an invaluable tool for helping us all stay connected. Click the resources below to learn how you can hear and communicate better when you’re on your next videoconference call.

Zoom with Captions Helps Me Connect »

Zoom and Captioning for Hearing Loss »

Zoom and Captioning with InnoCaption+ App »

Improving Audio Quality on Videoconference Calls »

Hear and Connect Better on Videoconference Calls »

Making Videoconferencing More Hearing Loss Friendly »