How to Hear During a Pandemic

How to Hear During a Pandemic

Did you know that we’re in the middle of a pandemic? I know…it’s a shocker, it’s not like it’s being broadcasted over the news every day.

As the pandemic wears on, I keep seeing/hearing the phrase, “this pandemic is really not friendly to people with hearing loss.”

Well…I don’t think the pandemic wants to be friendly to anyone, regardless if they have hearing loss or not, BUT I do acknowledge that the pandemic and the use of masks makes the day-to-day tasks more difficult for those with hearing loss.

I also imagine that it makes things more difficult for others dealing with immunocompromised systems, mobility issues and more. I can’t speak on behalf of those people, but I can speak about my own experiences during this pandemic.’

I honestly did not realize how much I depended on lip reading in loud environments until that access was taken away from me. I was frustrated because I was struggling with simple tasks like:

  • Going grocery shopping – it was hopeless trying to hear the cashier with the mask on behind the plexiglass.
  • Ordering at a restaurant – it ended up with me trying to play, ‘guess what the waiter/waitress said’ and getting it wrong every time.
  • Talking with a friend – walking through a public place with masks on, and trying to converse with a friend had me bluffing every time.

I’ve read a lot of social media posts and articles on the difficulties of having hearing loss in the middle of the pandemic. I sympathize with all of you. But this is not what this post is about – instead I’m going to use my experiences to talk about how to hear in the middle of the pandemic.

I LOVE the invention of the clear masks that have been going around. One time I was served by a waitress who had a clear mask on and it was a breath of fresh air to not have to struggle to understand what she was saying. However, the reality is that those masks are expensive to mass produce – and that the majority of masks being worn are not transparent.

Here are some tips on how to navigate doing day to day tasks during a pandemic:

Tip #1: Disclose your hearing loss right from the start.

This is something that took a while for me to pick up on. I don’t like having to disclose my hearing loss all the time. Especially in moments when I never had to do so before the pandemic – like ordering at a restaurant or going grocery shopping.

Now, in those moments when I know I’m going to have trouble hearing, I disclose my hearing loss right before the other person starts speaking. Sometimes, it leads to the other person not quite understanding where I’m getting at and then they start talking, then I miss what they say, and then we both get frustrated.

To prevent that from happening, I’ve learned to keep my statement straightforward, and explain how the masks impact my ability to hear well.

A statement I’ve come to use is:

“Hi, I just want to let you know that I have hearing loss, and I will NOT be able to understand what you’re saying with your mask on.”

To add to it, you can even clarify what the next steps could be:

“Can you please take a step back and speak with your mask off or write down what you are saying on a phone or slip of paper?”

Tip #2: Speak as loud and as clear as you can.

Ironically, I tend to speak at a lower level when I’m speaking behind my mask. I always assume that people won’t have trouble hearing me. That’s a terrible assumption. Masks do interfere with the stream of audio and even those without hearing loss might have trouble understanding you with a mask on.

Speak as loud as you can, and as clear as you can so that when you are communicating your needs, the person on the receiving end will have a better time understanding what needs to be done.  

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When I was at a restaurant with my boyfriend, the time came to order and the waiter was speaking to me (with a mask on). The interaction ended with me gritting my teeth and looking helplessly at my boyfriend, silently asking him to repeat what the waiter said.

I’ll admit that it can be exhausting to have to constantly disclose your hearing loss, and that there are times when you just don’t want to do it anymore – just for the sake of not having to make a simple interaction longer than it has to be.

In those moments, if you are with someone, it’s okay to ask them for help in interpreting sometimes.

Tip #4: Swallow your pride, shake it off and move on.

I lost count of how many times I embarrassed myself because I couldn’t hear what the other person was saying, or assumed they were saying one thing when they were actually saying something else.

I used to walk away from those situations feeling upset that I made a simple interaction (such as checking out at a grocery store) into what seemed like a spectacle on my part.

Now, after those moments of frustration, I swallow my pride, shake it off and move on. I go over what happened, and think of proactive ways to prevent that from happening again.

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