Face masks complicate communication for hearing impaired

Audiologist Shows Off A Plastic Face Shield

Jerry Teal is a Webb City man who suffers from impaired hearing, and while he’s far from helpless, the current pandemic has made life a bit tougher. That’s because many of the people communicating with him are wearing face masks.

“I have trouble understanding them when they start raising up their voice, and they think I can’t hear it. And then it’s not clear,” said Teal.

Jerry isn’t the only hearing impaired 4-Stater struggling during the era of face masks. Joplin audiologist Dr. Hany Mikhail says he hears similar complaints from many of his clients.

“Most of them, they depend on facial expressions and lip reading. You take the lip reading away, and you literally deprive the hearing impaired patients from 15 or 20% of clues that can help them understand speech,” said Dr. Mikhail.

But Dr. Mikhail says there are solutions, and the first one starts by making a simple request of the mask wearer.

“You can tell the party on the other side that’s talking to them to speak slowly and clearly, and then (the person dealing with hearing loss) can reach out for the hearing aid and they can crank the volume up three steps to compensate for these facial clues,” said Dr. Mikhail.

Another option is using a plastic face shield which provides protection without hiding the face, but Dr. Mikhail says those can be hard to come by during the pandemic.

“There is a big shortage of these (face shields). I have to order them from a company, and if they know you are in the medical field, they allow you to have them,” said Dr. Mikhail.

But Dr. Mikhail says face shields can be found on Amazon occasionally, and don’t require a prescription to purchase.

As for Jerry, he says he found the most success understanding mask wearers by going with the doctor’s first advice.

“If you look straight at me when you’re talking and you get my attention before you do that and keep it, well then I can hear it. And the only other thing is, make sure that you say it plain. I don’t mean loud. I mean plain,” said Teal.