Whether we’re considering getting hearing aids, or we’ve just started using them, or we’ve been wearing them a long time, we can imagine them as part of a larger picture of effective communication skills. Each year throughout May, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) celebrates Better Hearing and Speech Month, when we try to spread awareness of and treatment options for communication issues of all kinds. This May, the theme is “Communication at Work,” and the ways we interact with others so dramatically different, there’s no better time to discuss some of the issues that the hearing impaired face in the workplace.
Face Masks & Social Distancing
For those of us with hearing loss, trying to have a conversation with someone who is wearing a face mask and standing 6 feet away might be tough. The facemask is working against us in that it is both attenuating high frequencies and blocking our view of our conversational partner’s face so that we can’t read their lips. Social distancing puts people at such a remove that voices might become more difficult to hear. This makes it difficult to communicate with our coworkers.
Face masks are available with windows that reveal the wearer’s mouth, so that the deaf and hard of hearing still have the ability to read lips. Unfortunately, many of the companies that regularly supply these masks are unable to take orders at this time due to the increased demand. However, it is possible to make them yourself. Depending on the size of your company or the circumstances there, this may or may not be feasible.
There’s not much to be done about social distancing. If you’re not in group quarantine with a person, it’s simply not safe to bridge the gap imposed by social distancing. If this distance is preventing you from being able to communicate with a coworker, you’ll need to find another way. Ask them to email or text, or otherwise write down what they’re trying to say.
With so many people working from home, online meeting platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet have become essential. Even if you’re going into a workplace, it might be better in some circumstances to use these tools between spaces there, rather than meeting up in one room. This is one way we can bridge the gap created by the social distancing safeguard.
Both Zoom and Google Meet offer closed captioning, automatic transcription, and the ability to record calls. If you find any of these useful, be sure to have them in place when your meeting begins.
It’s worth noting that the quality of online meetings can be greatly improved if all those on the call observe a few preparatory guidelines:
- Keep your device on a stable surface, not in your hand or lap.
- Position your device such that your face is close enough to the screen that someone can easily read your lips.
- Make sure your surroundings are well lit. While the technology in your device will brighten darker images, this will granulate them, making lip reading more difficult.
- Reduce background noise as much as possible. The technology will remove more consistent sounds like fans and refrigerators, but human speech or transient sounds will make their way to your coworkers.
- Using headphones can allow you to increase the volume of the call without creating feedback between your device’s speakers and microphone.
If you are working from home, it’s important to remember that most of us are not set up for this under normal circumstances, so we need to be understanding of pets, children, and other distractions that may come along.
If you suspect you have hearing loss and you’re not currently being treated for it, make an appointment with a hearing healthcare practitioner today. The problems associated with untreated hearing loss are many and well-documented, ranging from social isolation to physical injury, even to brain atrophy. The sooner you get hearing aids, the less decline you’ll experience in the areas of your life and body that are affected by hearing loss. Hearing tests are relatively quick and entirely painless, so find out today if you can benefit from hearing aids.