The Impact of Masks and Distance Learning On A Person with Hearing Loss

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Millions of people around the world are experiencing this new wave of masks being a part of our society.  Hearing loss is the 3rd most prevalent chronic condition in our aging lives. Someone you know, or you yourself, are struggling with hearing loss and the added challenges masks bring to today’s world. 

The impact masks have on speech and communication with others are listed below. I’ve created a ‘Quick List’ to help you hear others while wearing masks. You can see my “6 Ways to Hear with A Mask” guide here

Distance learning, masks, and hearing loss. I just said a mouthful there. Those three things together present challenges we are trying to navigate along with many other stressors. I’m hoping to provide you with additional tips on how to best effectively communicate and hear via technology. Don’t want to read to the bottom? Click here for the FREE ALD Flowchart!

The Overall Impact of Masks 

Masks distort the loudness and the quality of the speech.

Masks block the speaker’s mouth and facial cues necessary to provide the context of what was said. 

Masks block emotion, smiles, concerns, jokes – which only makes a hard of hearing person feel…uncomfortable. 

Mask Distortion (sound waves)

Sound waves travel through the air to vibrate our eardrums, which send the vibrations through to our middle ear, then stimulating the hair cells inside our inner ear. The inner ear excites and sends the sound through the hearing nerve, sending the sound up to the brain. 

The material of the mask may impact how those sound waves travel depending on the thickness of the mask. Speech may become muffled and or unnatural in quality. You will lose mostly the distinction of consonant sounds, /s/ /t/ /th/ /sh/ /f/, as a few examples. Consonant sounds provide meaning to the words and are most difficult to hear in the high pitch range. High pitch sounds do not travel as well as low pitch sounds through barriers listed above. 

According to a recent study completed by, The Hearing Review, wearing masks has given us a mild high frequency hearing loss due to the loss of the high pitch consonants. Now add your hearing loss to the mix and you’ve got an added decrease to your hearing. 

Mask Blocking (physical barrier)

Deaf and hard of hearing people use their eyes and ears to communicate effectively. Our ears bring us the sounds, our eyes fill in the context of what our ears were unable to break down, and our brain processes the two together into meaningful speech/sounds. 

Normal hearing people lipread without even realizing they are doing it! Not being able to lipread impacts everyone. About 40% of the English speech sounds are visible on the lips. We verify what was heard by reading the lips especially in complex listening environments (noisy restaurants etc.)

The masks have taken our lipreading abilities away! 

Wait…Was That A Joke?

Masks reduce our ability to express the emotion or context of what is being said. Are you understanding the sarcasm through my mask? Are you hearing my frustration? 

Masks bring on a new anxiety many of us have never felt before. This puts your brain on high alert and is an added stress to your already difficult communication handbook (ie. your brain). 

Click here to get your free copy of 6 Tips On How to Hear with a Mask

Distance Learning

We’re facing a new era of education where children of all ages are…doing it a little differently. Even our work life is affected! Due to the recent known pandemic, deaf and hard of hearing kids are either learning remotely, attending in-person classes with strict safety procedures, or the hybrid approach using both distance learning and in-person learning. Adults can utilize these tips too! 

Connectivity Concerns

First, the issues I’ve come across working with my patients so far are – distractions and bad connections. Aside from connection issues being a distraction, occasionally people will forget to mute their computer mics, causing additional noise and distraction. This causes a deaf child/adult to strain to work harder to listen. Have you heard of “Listening Fatigue”? It’s real.    

The best way to connect and hear through your computer is by direct connection to your device by using headphones or ALDs. However, parents need to hear what is said too so they can follow along to ensure their hard of hearing child is following directions and understanding the task. This usually means the computer speakers are utilized. The speakers don’t carry the same quality as a direct connection does, therefore making listening more challenging for the deaf and hard of hearing child or adult. 

I’m still working on finding ways to minimize these two issues, however it’s a work in progress. If you have ideas please let me know in the comments! 

Assistive Listening Devices – What Are They & How Do They Work?

Remote microphones, Bluetooth technology, and Roger/FM systems provide a wireless direct audio input to hearing aids that overcome the negative effects of:

  • Background noise
  • The sound distortions of distance from the sound source
  • Room reverberation

Use of assistive listening device technology is known to be the most effective method to improve speech recognition in noise of hearing aid and cochlear implant users. Assistive Listening Devices can improve the signal (what you want to hear) to noise (what you want to block out) ratio.

I’ve created a flowchart to help those working with children with hearing loss and those working from home who need access to better sound quality for their school/work meetings. This flowchart is meant to make your life easier connecting to your work/school laptop or tablets using your ALDs! 

This flowchart will assist you in deciding the appropriate set up for you or your child during distanced learning and/or during Zoom meetings. Click to download for the FREE flowchart!

When hearing aids or cochlear implants are not enough, my goal is to help you access the curriculum by providing you with additional solutions. If you have any additional tips to add please reach out to me! I will be updating this post and the downloads as I learn new information. 

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