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Communicating Effectively While Wearing Masks and Physical Distancing

From: Le’Anne McEachern, Au.D. Doctor of Audiology Newport, OR 541 272-5015

Communicating Effectively While Wearing Masks and Physical Distancing

In response to COVID-19, many people are wearing masks and/or standing six feet apart while in the community. This presents some new challenges for everyone, but especially people with hearing loss or communication problems.

Masks

* Wearing masks can sometimes make communication more difficult, especially for people who have trouble speaking or hearing.
* How Masks Can Make It Harder to Communicate
* Masks muffle sound, making it more difficult to understand speech and some higher-pitched voices.
* Masks take away our ability to read lips and see facial expressions, which help us better understand what we’re hearing.
* Speaking with a mask can be hard for people with communication problems, like aphasia or voice problems.
* Masks can be uncomfortable for people who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants (see tips below).

Improving Communication With Alternatives to Standard Masks

* Different types of masks and barriers can help people communicate more easily. Some examples are masks with clear panels, face shields made of clear plastic, and clear barriers like plexiglass.
* Physical Distancing
* Physical distancing can also create challenges for communication.
* How Physical Distancing Can Make It Harder to Communicate
* Speech can sound quieter because sound levels go down with distance.
* Focusing your attention on speech can be harder at a distance with other sounds in the environment, like birds chirping or a blaring car radio.

We can’t lean-in or get closer or use other similar strategies, to help fix a communication breakdown.
It’s more difficult to see visual cues, such as facial expression and speakers’ lips, at a distance.

Tips for Communicating While Wearing a Mask or Physical Distancing

* Make sure you have your communication partner’s attention.
* Face your partner directly, and make sure nothing is blocking your view.
* Talk a little louder.
* Talk a little slower.
* Use your hands and your body language.
* Ask your partner if they understood you; if not, say it a different way or write it down.
* Move to a quiet place if you can.
* If you’re talking with someone new, ask if there’s anything you can do to make communication easier for both of you.

Provided by the American Speech and Hearing Association

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