Coronavirus and mask mandates have imposed communication struggles we all were not prepared for. People with a hearing impairment are struggling to communicate now more than ever. Though we may not have realized it before, we communicate with more than just our words. For instance, we use our body language, tone of voice, as well as facial expressions when we talk to someone. Facial expressions help us communicate our unspoken emotions such as anger, happiness, disgust, fear, sadness, and being surprised. Most of our emotions are expressed using the lower half of our face. When our mouths are covered up by the masks, we only see half of the expression. This makes it difficult to decode how someone is feeling when you are talking to them.
Facial expressions aren’t the only thing that are hidden behind masks. Most of us don’t realize it, but we all read lips to some extent. What most people don’t know is that we actually hear with our brain. The brain uses input from more than just our auditory senses to help us hear. The processing area in our brain combines auditory information with visual cues such as reading lips to help us comprehend what is actually being said. When someone is wearing a mask, our brain is only getting input from the auditory senses taking away a crucial part in the way we comprehend speech. Now add in having a hearing loss on top of that, communication and comprehension becomes ever more difficult and challenging.
Here are some helpful tips to help ease communication and improve comprehension for everyone while wearing masks.
- Face each other directly and make sure there is good lighting to help see the upper half of facial expressions such as eye crinkles when someone smiles.
- Make sure you have the other person’s attention before speaking.
- Try using a clear mask or face shield.
- Talk a little slower and a little louder.
- Use appropriate hand motions and body language to help convey emotions.
- Move to a quiet place.
- Be an advocate for yourself and clarify what they said. If you are unsure, let them know you are having difficulty understanding them.
- If you wear hearing aids, ask your audiologist to help you program in a “face mask” mode.
- Be patient!
It is important to keep in mind even though masks impose a communication barrier, it is best to keep the masks on for your protection. Do not ask someone to take off their mask so you can hear them better, and do not take off your mask to hear them better. Instead try using the tips above to help ease the communication process.