Face masks pose challenges

Face masks pose challenges

With more people wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s creating challenges for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. The challenges have sparked mask designers to create masks with clear panels where a speaker’s mouth can be seen. But there are issues beyond seeing a speaker. 

Dr. Dave Fabry at Starkey Hearing Technologies said masks cover facial expressions that people who use sign language need to see. He also said those with hearing aids rely on lip-reading to better understand what is being said, and anyone with lower hearing losses will have difficulty with muffled speech. 

“A lot of the higher-pitch sounds that are so important for communication, those sounds are reduced to about half of their volume when a person is wearing a face covering or a mask,” Fabry said. 

For someone who wears hearing aids, reads lips or uses American Sign Language, seeing the mouth is key, said Darlene Zangara, executive director of the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing. 

“When you have a mask on, you can’t lip read,” said Zangara, who identifies as deaf. “There’s been no real adjustments made to help communicate unless they had personal experiences with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. So it’s been very frustrating.” 

To communicate with someone with hearing loss, speak more slowly and a little louder than usual. Don’t shout. Try to eliminate as much background noise as possible. Some people have taken to wearing buttons or T-shirts stating that they have hearing disabilities. 

(Source: KSTP-TV, Minneapolis Star Tribune)