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Communicate effectively while wearing a mask: Speech-language-hearing group offers advice

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Photo: Kemal Yildirim/iStockphoto

Rockville, MD — Use of facial coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 can present challenges to communication, particularly for people who have difficulty hearing.

As health officials encourage the continued use of facial coverings during the pandemic, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has released guidance intended to improve communication for all wearers. Among the tips:

  • Consider using a covering with a clear panel over the mouth, or a clear faceshield when appropriate. This can help maintain the ability to read lips and observe facial expressions.
  • Before speaking, make sure you have the attention of the person with whom you’re communicating.
  • Face the other person directly, with nothing blocking your view.
  • Speak louder and slower, without shouting. Use your hands and body language.
  • Move to a quiet place, if possible.
  • Ask the person if he or she understood you. If not, state your message differently or write it down.

For people who use hearing aids or cochlear implants, ASHA advises choosing a mask with four string ties instead of ear loops. Secure your device with non-damaging material such as wig tape or a cloth headband. After removing your mask in a safe place, make sure the device is still working.

“Widespread mask use at this critical juncture in the pandemic is key to protecting the public health, but we want to make everyone aware that masks can pose communication challenges for anyone – especially people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” ASHA President Theresa Rodgers said in a July 9 press release. “By taking some basic steps, everyone can do their part to help ensure those with hearing difficulties are better poised to successfully communicate in an environment where mask use is necessary.”

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