How to Communicate With the Deaf Community When Wearing a Mask

Face Mask

While wearing a mask is an important safety measure to slow the further spread of COVID-19, it poses a challenge for the hard of hearing, deaf and deaf blind community.

Masks muffle speech while also covering the parts of the face responsible for visual cues that can help the deaf community communicate and this can be extremely isolating.

“The Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing population is diverse in communication styles and levels of hearing losses,” Teddy R. Dorsette III, director of communications for National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), told mindbodygreen. “There is not a one-size-fits-all as far as communication needs and auditory needs. One thing as a whole about this population is that we are very visual.”

While some people rely on lip reading, others rely on facial expressions and according to Dorsette, masks strip “away the ability to see the lips and facial expressions, and communication access becomes lost.”

For those who are hard of hearing, masks also pose a problem as they muffle the sound of speech making it much harder to understand what is being said.

“As soon as you put a mask on, you lose 10-15 decibels,” Kaia Rongstad, co-owner of Northland Audiology and Hearing Service in Juneau, Alaska, told Healthing.

So, how can we make it easier for the deaf, deaf blind and hard of hearing community as mask-wearing becomes apart of our daily lives?

— Be patient

Mask-wearing isn’t comfortable for anyone, but it’s particularly hard for the deaf community so if you’re struggling to communicate with someone at the supermarket, be patient. You don’t know the difficultly they are experiencing at that moment.

“On a recent Costco trip, I was at the checkout unloading my groceries when a masked store employee began waving her arms furiously at me,” Hilary Edwards wrote for Healthling.

“I realised that she had probably been speaking to me for some time, and I apologised, mentioning that I was deaf and unable to understand her. Guessing what she wanted, I stepped back and she began unloading my cart.”

Yelling, waving your arms or becoming frustrated with others isn’t helpful and will only make them feel like they’ve done something wrong when they haven’t. Everyone is doing their best in this highly stressful and disorientating time.

— Use a visual aid

If you’re having trouble communicating with someone and they aren’t understanding what you’re trying to verbalise, try writing it down. Grab your phone and type what you need to communicate. Otherwise, grab a pen and paper and do the same.

— Consider purchasing a clear mask

If you type “clear mask” into Etsy you’ll find a plethora of options. These masks are generally made from fabric and have a clear plastic window over the mouth so people around you can see your lips moving and receive other visual cues.

If you’re working in a customer-facing business and wearing a mask for long periods of time, a clear mask is a great option that will help make communication a little easier especially for the deaf community.

Ultimately, being aware and practising patience will go far when community with the deaf, deaf blind and hard of hearing community while wearing a mask.

“For me, what I hope for most is an awareness that some individuals need an alternate communication approach,” Edwards wrote. “Where required, please offer gentle guidance rather than bland repetition (beneath a mask).”

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