Communicating while wearing a mask calls for new strategies

By Becca Rancourt,
Au.D. CCC-A Doctor of Audiology

Americans and other individuals across the world have been are wearing a face covering when in public because of the Covid-19 pandemic. When wearing a face mask or a face covering, our voice is reduced by about 10 decibels.
Social distancing has also become a new normal during this global pandemic. When we communicate with another person, the farther we stand away from them, the softer our voice becomes. This is because as distance increases, sound levels decrease.
Many individuals, especially those with hearing loss, also rely on visual cues when communicating. This additional information helps our brain understand verbal communication. When a face mask is worn, we are no longer able to utilize visual cues, making it more challenging to understand speech.
While social distancing and wearing a face covering are methods put into place to keep us all safe and healthy, it makes communication with others much more challenging, especially those who are hard of hearing.
Here are some tips we can all utilize during this time to communicate with others while wearing a face covering.
* Speak slowly. We often think that if we try to speak louder it will help the other person understand better. However, speaking more slowly is a more effective approach as you will speak more clearly and use better enunciation.
* Ask others to repeat back what you said to confirm that that message was understood correctly.
* Utilize written communication when possible.
* Select quiet spaces to communicate where less background noise is present.
* Use or make clear masks or face shields so that others can see your lips when communicating.
If you are a hearing aid user, we recommend finding a mask that ties around the back of your head instead of looping around your ears. When wearing a mask that hooks around your ears your hearing aids are more likely to fall out, especially when taking your mask off.
While our normal communication strategies of leaning in closer to hear better and watching someone’s lips when they speak to better understand are not able to be as easily utilized, there are still ways we can stay connected with our friends, family and loved ones. By following the above recommendations, we can communicate more effectively.