Effective Communication with Masks and Physical Distancing

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

With the raging pandemic, masks have become a crucial public health measure at the moment. Wearing it not only keeps you safe but also protects your loved ones and the ones around you. 

However, there is no denying that wearing masks and face coverings can make communication particularly difficult. This is especially true for the ones who are deaf, have a serious hearing disability, or have cochlear implants. For those who largely rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to communicate, seeing the person talking to them wear a mask can be particularly difficult.

But until the pandemic stops looming over our heads, masks are bound to be a necessity and not an option. With that in mind, here is a detailed discussion on how to communicate while practicing physical distancing and wearing masks.

The Right Way to Wear Your Face Mask

Before moving on to the details of wearing masks for people with communication issues or hearing problems, let’s clarify a few basic facts about wearing masks. And we’ll start with the right way to wear your mask.

Your mask needs to cover the face from the bridge of the nose to under the chin. It needs to be loosely fitted but secure enough to remain in place. Ensure that you are able to talk with the mask on and the fit or material does not irritate you. In case it irritates you, the temptation to touch it and pull it out of place will be greater. It would limit the effectiveness of the mask or put you at risk of touching the face with non-sanitized hands. 

Should You Wear Bandannas And Neck Gaiters Instead Of Masks?

Neither a bandanna nor a neck gaiter works as well as proper face masks. Any good mask has two layers of breathable and washable fabric that help to keep the wearer from spreading possibly infected droplets in the air. The bandannas that you tie around your face will not work well as a mask because it stays open at the bottom.

Gaiters are tubes of thin and stretchy knit fabric that are worn around the neck and pulled upward to cover the mouth and nose. These are generally too thin to offer any viable protection. Even masks with exhalation valves are not a good idea because it lets your droplets go into the air. 

Doctors strictly recommend people to wear proper masks instead of bandannas, gaiters, or masks with exhalation valves. It is important to make sure that there are no gaps around the face, though the mask should sit tight. Any gap between the face and the mask or material that is too thin will not give you the same protection as wearing an actual mask properly.

Do Masks Make It More Difficult To Communicate?

Masks, combined with physical distancing, can make it harder to communicate in several ways, such as:

  • Masks muffle sounds, which makes it harder to hear some higher-pitched voices and understand speech clearly.
  • Masks also take away the ability to see facial expressions and read lips, which are crucial for many individuals to better understand what they are hearing.
  • Speaking with their masks on can be difficult for people with communication issues like voice problems or aphasia.
  • Wearing masks can be difficult for people with cochlear implants or hearing aids (tips about that coming up shortly!)

You can improve communication significantly with an alternative to standard masks. There are different types of barriers and masks that help people easily communicate. Some instances are clear adult face masks and clear barriers like plexiglass. Clear masks help you communicate better while keeping you safe and protected.

Tips for Wearing Cochlear Implants or Hearing Aids with Masks

Given below are a few tips that will help you in wearing masks if you wear cochlear implants or digital hearing aids:

  • Secure the device with quality wig tapes or other non-damaging material such as a cloth headband. 
  • Rather than looping the mask over your ears, it is better to use a button extender for the mask to attach behind the head.
  • Take the mask off only in a safe place and check your device once to ensure that it is working.
  • Select the mask that comes with four-string ties rather than ear loops.

How Physical Distancing Makes It Difficult To Communicate

Masks are not the only thing that makes it difficult for you to communicate. Physical distancing can also make things harder in the following ways:

  • Speech tends to sound quieter as sound levels decrease with distance.
  • Focusing your attention on your speech can be more difficult at a distance when there are other sounds in the background, such as a blaring radio, a honking car, or birds chirping.
  • You cannot get closer or lean in or use other such strategies to fix the issues with communication.
  • The distance makes it even harder to notice the visual cues such as the speakers’ lips and facial expressions.

Tips for Communicating While Physical Distancing or Wearing A Mask

  • Make sure you have the complete attention of the other person before communicating
  • Ensure nothing is blocking the view when you directly face another person to talk
  • Talk a little louder and slower than usual
  • Use your body language, gestures, and your hands to explain things
  • Ask your partner if they could understand what you just said; if they couldn’t, write it down or say it in some other way
  • Take your partner to a quiet place, if possible
  • If it is someone new that you are talking to, enquire if there is anything that you can do to help make the communication easier for you both. 

The Endnote

Wearing a mask and communicating with a person wearing a mask are both difficult for a person who has difficulty in hearing. And clear face masks are a blessing for all such individuals! They are easy to use, very effective and do not create any problem while talking or hearing. So, giving them a try is vital in these times of pandemic. 


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