What did you say?… Masks create an exasperating experience for the hearing impaired

Published 2:41 pm Wednesday, August 5, 2020

With one of the greatest ways to contain the COVID-19 virus according to health professionals being to use face masks, following the recommendations has not only created issues for those who rebel against wearing the face mask but for the roughly 48 million Americans with hearing loss, it has provided yet another hurdle for them to effectively communicate with those around them.
Communication is challenging enough even under the best of circumstances for those individuals and the coronavirus pandemic added another obstacle.
According to Watauga Hearing, two obvious problems created for individuals with hearing loss are 1) individuals cannot gain any cues from lip-reading, and 2) the voice of the speaker is attenuated and distorted.
Whether one recognizes it or not, even those without hearing problems, utilizing lip-reading as spoken language is both auditory and visual.
Individuals with normal hearing and individuals with hearing loss rely on the integration of auditory and visual signals of spoken language to derive meaning.
What this means is that everyone uses lip-reading.
Lip-reading is used in all face-to-face human communication, in degraded auditory settings such as those noisy restaurants or with individuals of different dialects, and in degraded visual settings such as large classrooms, poor lighting, and two-dimensional viewings like watching television.
So it is much more obvious that those who have a hearing impairment will struggle when dealing with covered faces at work, school, or in the community.
Why do masks affect hearing someone clearly?
Research has shown that wearing a mask attenuates the high frequencies of the wearer by three to four decibels for a simple medical mask and close to 12 decibels for N95 masks.
This is important because the high frequencies of speech contribute to the clarity of the speech. Therefore, wearing a mask makes speech a whole lot less clear for the listener.
Watauga Hearing has some recommendations that people can do to improve the speech signal for those that suffer from hearing impairments.
The best way to improve communication is to have your communication partner use clear speech which includes the following:
1. Accurate and fully formed.
2. Naturally slower.
3. Naturally louder.
4. Lively with a full range of voice intonation (tone) and stress on keywords.
5. Characterized by pauses between all phrases and sentences.
Most find that just by asking those you are communicating with to speak clearer will make a world of difference.
This is a good reminder for everyone that is following the local mask mandates to remember to be clear and speak just a little louder when communicating when in public.
If hearing remains hard, Watauga Hearing recommends considering getting tested and fitted for hearing aids to avoid missing out on what one can be hearing clearly.
To schedule an appointment or ask a question about improving your hearing, contact Watauga Hearing at 423-928-1901.

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