Face masks - in addition to social distancing rules and public safety measures - are meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, but they have also created a distinct set of obstacles to the 37 million American adults with hearing loss.
Overwhelmed and Practicing Extra Caution During Pandemic
After the pandemic hit, Ashlea Hayes, a deaf and blind secretary for the National Black Deaf Advocates, found herself being overly cautious. In Compton, CA - where Hayes resides - she normally grocery shops on her own, but lately she has been using home delivery services.
With all of the new regulations inside grocery stores and other facilities, Hayes finds them to be overwhelming.
Hayes believes that things would feel different if she was permitted to see and touch her friends and colleagues. She, as well as many who experience hearing loss, noticed an increase in feelings of anxiety. She attributes the anxiety to the safety precautions that everyone needs to take.
The pandemic has upended everyone’s lives. For the deaf and hard of hearing, these new social distancing guides that require everyone to remain six feet away from each other and wearing a face mask can raise a unique set of challenges. Ordinary responsibilities have become more complicated or time-consuming, which leads to more anxiety and stress.
Hearing Loss Statistics
About 466 million people across the globe experience a disabling form of hearing loss. According to the National Institutes of Health, in the U.S., more than 37 million adults - who make up approximately 15 percent of the population - have reported some range of hearing loss.
Daily Struggles During COVID-19 for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Grace Cogan, a deaf woman who resides in Jamesville, N.Y., also feels anxious when she shops. The face masks restrict her, and others who are also deaf or hard of hearing, from effectively communicating with others. Cogan said that she had to use visual cues, like the expression in someone’s eyes or the angle of their eyebrows to help her comprehend what others were trying to communicate. Due to the difficulties she faced, Cogan now makes her boyfriend go grocery shopping.
“This pandemic has really further divided the inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing community from the hearing world, or in other words, isolated us even more.” -Grace Cogan
After everyone was required to wear masks, a deaf or hard of hearing person’s ability to effectively communicate was no longer attainable.
This causes more exhaustion, due to navigating your way through hordes of unfamiliar and covered faces. Cogan has had contentious experiences with strangers who tried to speak to her. This is of great concern to the deaf and hard of hearing because the stigma is now amplified.
Most who are deaf and hard of hearing rely on visual cues, like reading lips. Many who are part of this community are now becoming more aware of just how heavily they depend on reading lips. The muffled sounds from the masks aren’t helping either.
These new social distancing guidelines are a problem for the deaf, hard of hearing and blind individuals.
The inability to access important information about COVID-19 is also an issue that’s been raised. If counselors can’t meet in person, it can lead to anxiety and depression among those with communication limits.
The deaf and hard of hearing do have the option of texting, using smartphone captions, speech-to-text apps, writing things out with a pen and paper, or typing out messages in the notes section of their smartphone.
Prioritizing Needs for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community
There are sign language interpreters, who are now deemed as essential workers amidst the pandemic. They are normally asked to stand next to important officials who disclose important information via TV and/or live streaming over the internet. These interpreters are not available in every situation.
The president of Gallaudet University, a liberal arts university for the deaf located in Washington, D.C., Roberta J. Cordano, called for the U.S. to reevaluate how the country responds to critical situations.
Cordano strongly urges the government to restructure the world and make the deaf and hard of hearing community a priority. She also advocated for better equity in education, healthcare, employment and retraining, and assistance for deaf and hard of hearing entrepreneurs and analysts. Cordano is also calling for protections for the deaf, hard of hearing, and blind people. She supports certified deaf interpreters and sign language interpreters for all public service announcements. She believes that the present social distancing rules need to change because they do not work for everyone.
“The ‘two adults, six feet apart’ standard carries its own inherent bias, assuming all those social distancing are the same: that they are hearing, seeing and without any need of support,” said Ms. Cordano.
There is a large population of Americans, who include young children, elderly adults, hard of hearing, deaf-blind individuals, and others with disabilities, who require help from others for their personal safety and well-being.
Government officials and local leaders are moving through a world that has been transformed by the pandemic. Hard of hearing and deaf-blind people need to have a voice in policy changes and structure.
If you are experiencing hearing loss contact us at Pure Sound Hearing Aids for a free hearing test and consultation. Our hearing instrument specialists can go over the best treatment options with you.
Please be aware that Pure Sound services will only be available by appointment and for essential visits at this time. Essential visits include all appointments that require new hearing aid fittings, repairs and re-fittings. If you need a hearing aid repair, we ask that you please wait in your car, while wearing your mask, and place your hearing aids in a clean zip lock bag. One of our staff members will come to your car to get them. If you are having any issues with your hearing aids, or need supplies for your hearing aids, please call us before visiting one of our offices.