Face Masks & The Hard of Hearing
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many changes & challenges to each & everyone of our lives. One of those challenges is THE MASK. Initially there were few options. Now we are faced with so many choices that picking out a mask can be overwhelming: what kind to you get? Where do you get one? How do you take care of one? It is not as if you can try one on before you purchase it! I am hoping this article will generate feedback & ideas from our readers as well as give some suggestions. Unfortunately, there is no solution that fits all and the process does require some trial & error & patience-not always a fun thing.
People with hearing issues have some extra challenges where masks are concerned.
- A mask muffles sounds and it is difficult for any person to hear clearly what the mask wearer is saying, but for the hard of hearing person it is exponentially more difficult.
- Many hard of hearing people rely on lip reading to understand speech from others. If that other person is wearing a mask, the hard of hearing person cannot read his/her lips.
- The elastic around the ears can interfere with the hearing aid in terms of positioning the hearing aid properly as well as interfering with the microphone.
- Putting & taking off the mask can dislodge the hearing aid and can result in misplacement or loss of the hearing aid.
The most important guideline I have for you is that you must advocate for yourself. If you cannot hear someone, you must let them know. As a HOH person, you must identify yourself.
• Carrying a card identifying that you have a hearing issue and showing the person goes a long way to avoiding frustration for both parties. Some people do step back & lower their masks so that a HOH person can read their lips, but as the Covid pandemic lives on, will it be acceptable to do so?
• An alternate suggestion is a button that is clipped to the HOH person’s mask that identifies him/her as HOH. Here’s an example from www.etsy.com
There has been a lot of media buzz on “clear masks for the hard of hearing”: these are masks with a see through insert around the mouth. A fabulous idea but those masks are only useful to the HOH person if the other person is wearing the mask. We are hoping that the media buzz will raise awareness of the difficulties HOH persons face in talking to a masked person. When the ads first came out, I felt that it was my responsibility to buy clear masks for each person I dealt with but that is not a realistic task. If public awareness could be raised so that clear masks were readily available for front line workers like cashiers & receptionists and anyone who communicates with a HOH person that would go a long way in easy the stress for HOH persons.
The Como Foundation out of Barrie, Ontario designs & manufactures lip reading masks for the deaf & hard of hearing https://www.thecomofoundation.ca/ Here’s an example of one of their masks.
In August 2020 CHHA National announced a partnership with the Como Foundation to produce and distribute clear lens masks calling them “Access Masks”. They also announced a national video campaign #ShareYourSmile to promote the awareness and use of these kinds of masks. For more information visit: https://www.chha.ca/get-involved/shareyoursmile/
In terms of choosing a mask:
• Consider ones that go around your head instead of over your ears.
• Some masks come with ties.
• Some come with clips.
• My audiologist suggested that I wrap the elastic from the mask around my pony tail to keep the mask from slipping. That works well for me and can work for someone with a bun or man-bun or hair clip.
• There is a trick with a pipe cleaner: loop a piper cleaner through the loops of the mask, then twist the pipe cleaner around itself.
• I found a website called Nurse Minder and watched the video “11 Surgical Mask Hacks to save your ears” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6AtRbph2Lw She had suggestions that used household items-beware of all the ads, just skip them all. One suggestion was similar to the pipe cleaner trick but used velcro strips instead. She also had a video on 7 hacks to stop glasses from fogging up.
Searching for Masks on Etsy: The website www.etsy.com is an on-line marketplace for selling & buying vintage or handmade goods.
- Search on it: search “hearing impaired face mask” and you will see the masks with the clear inserts.
- Search on it: “face masks for hearing aid users” and there a number that are shaped differently. It’s worth a look.
- Search on it: “face masks for the hearing impaired” and you will find some with printed with words about lip reading on the mask itself.
- Search “hearing impaired face mask buttons” and you will find the clip-on mask buttons.
- I also found “ ear savers for face masks” and “face mask ear straps”: extra pieces of fabric with buttons that you can hook the elastic of the face masks onto.
Searching for Masks on Amazon: On the website amazon.ca I found some different kinds of clear masks for restaurant workers. Those are worth a look.
There are some bandana type masks available: I was given a “Multi -purpose bandana neck gaiter with filters”. It’s a one-size fits all so I have to hook it over my pony tail, but it works and it will be great in cool weather.
In these times of self-isolation and social distancing it is critical to all of us that we maintain our contact with friends, family and business partners. Our communication with others has taken on added meaning. For the HOH person reading this article I want to encourage you to advocate for yourself. Always take responsibility and identify yourself as having a hearing loss. Take the time to research and find some different & fun ways to let people know that you are having difficulty hearing if someone is wearing a mask. Find out what is working for you and ask others what is working for them. THE MASK is going to be with us for awhile. Experiment with masks. Find something that you are comfortable with. For those of you who are not hard of hearing but associate with a HOH person, keep in mind that she/he has to be able to see the lips of the person they are communicating with. Consider buying a mask with a clear insert.
Please let us know what your experiences have been and if you have any ideas that you would like to add. Remember that CHHA-NSB is here to help and support the community.