With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many parts of the country and health officials urging vigilant use of masks as protection, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is providing advice for people with and without hearing loss to help everyone communicate while their faces are covered.
Masks can make communication difficult, especially for the approximately 48 million Americans with hearing loss. This is because the coverage can do all of the following things:
- Muffle sound, making it more difficult to understand speech and some higher-pitched voices.
- Take away a person’s ability to read lips and see facial expressions, which help people better understand what they’re hearing.
- Be physically uncomfortable for people who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants.
“Widespread mask use at this critical juncture in the pandemic is key to protecting the public health, but we want to make everyone aware that masks can pose communication challenges for anyone—especially people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said ASHA President Theresa H. Rodgers, MA, CCC-SLP. “By taking some basic steps, everyone can do their part to help ensure those with hearing difficulties are better poised to successfully communicate in an environment where mask use is necessary.”
To aid communication while wearing a mask, ASHA offers everyone the following tips:
- Consider using a mask with a clear panel over the mouth (available from various online sites) or using a clear face shield (when appropriate).
- Make sure you have your communication partner’s attention before speaking.
- Face your partner directly, and make sure nothing is blocking your view.
- Talk a little louder (but don’t shout) and a little slower.
- Use your hands and your body language.
- Ask your partner if they understood you; if not, say it a different way or write it down.
- Move to a quiet place if you can.
- If you’re talking with someone new, ask if there’s anything you can do to make communication easier for both of you.
For people who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, ASHA suggests taking these steps to make mask use more comfortable:
- Secure your device with wig tape or other non-damaging material, like a cloth headband.
- Use a button extender for the mask to attach it behind your head instead of looping the mask over your ears.
- Remove your mask in a safe place, then check your device to make sure it’s working.
- Choose a mask that has four string ties instead of ear loops.
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 211,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.