Wearing a mask or face covering has a significant impact on communication for people who are hearing impaired.

Usually, people with hearing loss communicate more easily simply by being able to see the facial expressions of the person they are talking to.

This means that wearing a mask or face covering is a barrier to communication, even for people who wear hearing aids. Words that are similar can be confused, sound is muffled, it is impossible to lipread and see people’s facial expressions.

How to recognize someone who is hearing impaired

Here are some clues that can help you recognize someone who is hearing impaired and might have difficulty understanding you when you interact with them when you are wearing a mask or face covering:

  • The person tells you they are hearing impaired;
  • The person does not react when you speak to them or asks you to repeat yourself often;
  • The person answers your questions incorrectly;
  • The person has a hearing aid or cochlear implant;
  • The person has a card or a button with a statement such as “I read lips” or “Your mask means that I cannot understand you”.

How to make it easier to communicate with a person who is hearing impaired

There are strategies that make it easier to communicate with people who are hearing impaired when you are wearing a mask or face covering. Here are a few:

  • Make sure you have the person's attention before you start to speak.
  • Don't shout. Shouting can distort some words.
  • Avoid standing with your back to a window or the sun. Backlight prevents the other person from seeing you and your gestures properly.
  • Speak slowly and clearly, but do not talk down to the person.
  • Illustrate what you are saying with gestures or by pointing to the objects or places you are talking about.
  • If the person asks you to repeat yourself or answers incorrectly, start over using different words.
  • Use short sentences and pause between sentences.
  • Take the time to check if the person understood what you said.
  • If possible, write down what you want to say to the person and encourage written exchanges, while observing hygiene rules and distancing. For example, you could use a notebook, a questionnaire, a whiteboard or a speech-to-text app on your cell phone or tablet.
  • Think about using technology. For instance, you could use a sound transmission system, an amplified telephone or a voice recognition app.
  • If possible, opt for a face covering with a window. There are a few different types of store-bought face coverings with a window and you can also make one yourself (the steps are described in the How to make a mask or a face covering section).