The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways. One of the big adjustments has been the need to wear masks in public to stop the spread of the coronavirus. While for most people, a piece of cloth over your mouth and nose is merely an inconvenience, for individuals in the deaf and hearing-impaired communities, masks hinder communication altogether.
While you may not have daily encounters with deaf individuals, it’s still good to be prepared in case you need to use new, respectful forms of communication with individuals who typically rely on lip-reading and visual cues to communicate. There are a few simple tips for adjusting your communication style when interacting with individuals in the deaf community, even while wearing a face mask. Most of them revolve around kindness, respect, and practicing patience.
Not only deaf individuals have hearing needs.
People with auditory struggles are not always completely deaf. There are many causes of hearing loss dealing with the inner ear, outer ear, and middle ear. Even those dealing with severe hearing loss may require extra assistance and patience during this time of face masks.
If you struggle with hearing loss, there are great organizations that offer hearing help. Through education and empowerment, you can take back control of your hearing care. A lot of these organizations tend to partner with hearing aid manufacturers, but Hearing Health holds no association, so they can help you get the best care. This holistic approach to healing can help with any type of hearing loss and continue to assist you during this pandemic.
When people with normal hearing try and get someone’s attention, you can normally say their name or shout “hello.” Cues such as this are not possible with the deaf and hard of hearing communities. So when communicating with a deaf individual, use as many visual cues as possible. With a face mask on, you’re taking away the possibility of lip-reading, so use other parts of your body instead. In this case, gestures are appreciated and encouraged. Feel free to try and pantomime what you’d like to say. Remember this is two-way communication, so you’re both trying to respect and understand each other. If possible, it would be great to learn a few common words or spellings in ASL. Things like “thank you” and “excuse me” or spelling out your name are great to show you’re trying. The world is built for people without auditory complications, so use that privilege you have to try and make life simpler for the people who have hearing issues.
Write It Out
If conversation moves to a more complicated place or requires extra instructions, it is more than okay to write it out in order to communicate. Deaf individuals may even bring a pen and paper with them or have their phone ready to type out pieces of your conversation. You can directly ask if written communication would be easier. Again, this is a two-way conversation, so if the easiest way for you both to relay what you’re trying to communicate is through writing it down or drawing it out, that is a great solution.
This is a frustrating time for everyone, but a mask mandate fully eliminates a communication channel for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Respect that and practice patience when you communicate. Don’t yell or roll your eyes or get frustrated if a conversation is taking longer than anticipated. Also remember that not all deaf individuals communicate in the same way, let them take the lead on how it will be best to proceed with the conversation.
Great strides are being made to create clear face masks to ease communication for individuals dealing with deafness. Unfortunately, these specialized masks are not everywhere, so if you find yourself working to communicate with someone who cannot hear, stay patient and kind as you make the necessary adjustments for effective conversation.