On a normal day, I have typical challenges associated with a mild-moderate hearing loss in my right ear like asking others to repeat themselves or arranging my body to make sure my good ear is towards the speaker. Then, COVID19 and face masks happened and suddenly I realized how much I rely on lip reading to get through my day, especially in public places like the grocery store or picking up take out. Let me tell you, the struggle is real. Between the muffled sounds created by the mask, background noise, poor acoustics in these places and not to mention the obscured lack of seeing facial expressions simple tasks were made a significant challenge.
I can recall one instance where I I had a doctor’s appointment that really frustrated me because it was important that I understood all the directions and instructions but it was hard to understand and I felt ridiculous having the doctor and nurse repeat everything. My first instinct was to use American Sign Language (ASL) but quickly realized that the doctor and nurse did not sign so that was another communicative breakdown. After telling them I was having trouble hearing, they agreed to write everything out for me, so I knew what to do. Still I felt defeated, I am a speech language pathologist who specializes with students and children who are deaf and/or hard of hearing with hearing aids and cochlear implants, I should be able to cope and deal with this.
As my personal challenges with wearing masks continued, I began to worry about all the other children and adults with hearing loss much more significant than mine. How were they dealing with this “new normal” of wearing masks? After my doctor’s appointment, I really thought about how I was going to handle similar situations and advocate for my students and clients who are deaf and/or hard of hearing. I was online one day and saw a post about face masks with a clear shield in the middle so others can see your lips. I immediately contacted my supervisor in the school district I work in and advocated that if school does open in the fall and we need to wear masks, then we need to get these for teachers, students, administration and specialists because we have a large population of deaf and/or hard of hearing students. My supervisor was immediately on board and was ON IT. I also mentioned these in a staff meeting with the KidSense staff and luckily Ms. Kaitlin had a friend that hooked us up! I found it a huge relief to interact with people whose mask had visibility around the mouth. Although the ability to hear did not improve as much I was able to lip read again which made understanding easier with less “what’s” and “huh’s”.
It is in times like these where we see our everyday challenges highlighted. In moments of crisis we see the need to improve access to everyone and right now we see the people working with the public don’t currently have much knowledge of communicating with the deaf and/or hard of hearing populations. Since our communities are grappling with so much going right now, it is up to the individuals and parents or caregivers to educate and explain how to effectively communicate with us. Here are four simple things we can do to advocate for ourselves:
- Speak up! The person we are interacting with may not know we are deaf/hard of hearing. We are our biggest advocates, especially in this crazy time.
- Use different ways to communicate. I have found that having people write things down or use their phone to generate text to show me has also worked great!
- Use gestures! I talk with my hands A LOT. Since we can’t read facial expressions with a face mask, gestures are another great way to get emotions and ideas across. Also, you can gesture to indicate that you can’t hear as a way to signal the other person to find different ways to get their point across.
- Be patient! This is a crazy time for everyone and everyone is coping in some way or another. It is easy to get frustrated easily so just take a few deep breaths before you start advocating again.
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