Tips for Communicating with Face Masks

Tips for Communicating with Face Masks

In Lifestyle by Hearing Technology Associates

Mask mandates may have been dropped on public transport, but many people will still opt to wear masks as a personal decision. With different variants and a greater awareness of being in crowded spaces, it’s easy to see how communicating with a face mask or with someone who wears one can pose difficulties for those with hearing loss!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Americans suffer from hearing loss. For many, this makes the use of masks challenging to communicate with those around them. This is why it is important to take an annual hearing test to monitor your hearing abilities, in addition to seeking hearing loss treatment if needed. Our team is here to help!

The problems we face with facemasks

Masks can muffle the sound. 

People who have hearing loss already hear in a garbled, slurred, or muffled manner. These hearing issues are exacerbated in this era of face masks since the masks muffle the sound of a voice. The barrier of a mask muffles higher frequency voices the most, notably those of children.

Masks hinder lip reading.

Many individuals with hearing loss watch the speaker’s lips to help them understand what is being said and fill in the gaps. Face masks, for the most part, eliminate lip reading. Almost all face masks hide the nose and mouth, making it difficult to tell who is speaking and impossible to deduce what is being said from mouth movements.

Masks hinder the reading of facial expressions. 

Even if a person with hearing loss does not consider themselves a “lip reader,” they may gain instinctively by observing speakers’ faces while they speak. Even if the actual words are muffled or incomprehensible due to hearing loss, paying attention to facial expression and mouth shape can help bring what is being said into focus.

Masks obscure where sound is coming from.

The inability to recognize the direction from which sounds originate is part of the problem with decreased understanding. Listeners can’t reaffirm the source of speech by searching for moving lips when face masks are used. Hearing loss makes it hard to tell different people’s voices, which is more important in a conversation involving several people. This can make it tough to navigate a conversation. 

Social distancing doesn’t help either.

For the past few years, maintaining social distance has been critical for staying safe, but this sustained distance can also make hearing difficult. Social distancing makes it impossible to speak near to someone’s ear and have them understand you better. 

Tips for communicating in an age of masking

Here are some tips for those with or without hearing loss to communicate more effectively while staying safe. 

  • Offer up a clear facemask. Many manufacturers now offer facemasks with a transparent screen to aid lip-reading in front of the mouth. As individuals realize how they can passively assist folks with hearing loss, these designs become more readily available.
  • Make use of eye contact. Eye contact is an essential part of effective communication. When you wear a mask, it is even more critical. The person with whom you are talking should be able to hear you even if you don’t look at them. 
  • Use the voice carefully. People who wear masks should make sure they pronounce their words clearly and raise the volume of their voices. We also think it’s good to use pauses. You can stop and think about what you’re saying to ensure you don’t use words that don’t add value. The pause also gives your listener a chance to think about what you’ve said before, giving them more information.
  • Ask for a signal before speaking. A little gesture, such as a raised finger or a small wave can signal that you are about to talk. Get others to use a little signal every time they start speaking.
  • Get it in writing. For essential details, texting or writing is a must. When someone you’re speaking with is having trouble understanding what you’re saying, writing it down can help you communicate more effectively.
  • Meet up online, mask-free. While social isolation and face masks pose additional obstacles for hearing loss, this year has also brought significant accessibility improvements. Many meetings and presentations can be videotaped online and afterward re-watched or captioned. Live captioning systems have grown in efficiency and popularity, and video conferencing and online workplaces have become more common.

We offer a full range of hearing health services, including cutting-edge hearing aid fittings. If you’ve had trouble hearing, give us a call to set up an appointment! We can quickly connect you with the sounds you have been missing.