COMMUNICATION AND HEARING CARE: STILL ESSENTIAL IN OUR VIRTUAL WORLD
Whether it’s through working, learning, or socializing, the pandemic has caused us all to spend more time communicating with each other virtually. While technology has been a great resource during this time in allowing us to continue connecting with others, communicating through phones and screens (not to mention masks) creates some unique challenges, especially for those with hearing loss. Maybe you find it difficult to hear all of the conversation bouncing back and forth in your office meeting or family zoom call, or maybe you’ve noticed that a friend or loved one is struggling to keep up. Whether you’re masked up in person or connecting long distance, here are some tips and resources to help make communication easier during this time:
Turn your camera on. We all pay attention to visual cues to understand each other, and those with hearing loss often rely on these more. If you’re on a video call, simply having your cameras turned on can make a big difference. Make sure that as you’re speaking, your face and mouth are visible in the camera frame.
Automatic Captioning. Services like Microsoft Teams, which is often used in workplaces, or Skype, have live automatic captioning available to turn on with the click of a button within your meeting options. While these captions are not always perfect, they can help add to the spoken and visual cues when something is missed. In order to optimize live captioning, make sure that only one person is speaking at a time, and try to speak slightly slower and more clearly. Also, be sure that you are close enough to the microphone on your phone or computer. Zoom does not allow for automatic captioning but has an option for a meeting participant or a captioning service to provide live captions.
Optimize your environment. Try to minimize background noise by turning off other sound sources like the radio and TV and searching out a quiet spot in your home whenever possible. Using headphones may also help, as they eliminate any distance between you and the sound source, and they can help block out external noise. If you do use headphones, make sure that you’re choosing a safe volume. If your headphone volume is near the top of your volume range, you’ve likely entered a threshold that could potentially damage your hearing.
Considering a hearing test. While masks are important in keeping us safe, they reduce the volume of a speaker’s voice and hide their mouth, which poses a challenge. While we all use visual cues to some extent, if you have found yourself asking for frequent repetitions or straining to hear a masked speaker, it’s very possible you have a hearing loss that you may not have noticed previously. Consider seeing an audiologist, who can test your hearing and work with you to find the best options to treat your hearing loss.
Clear masks. A quick internet search will provide many options for masks that have a clear pane over the wearer’s mouth. If you have a regular communication partner who has hearing loss, consider purchasing this type of mask—it can make conversation a lot easier!
For hearing aid users
Bluetooth. Many newer hearing aids allow wearers to directly connect to their cellphone and other devices (tablets, etc.) using Bluetooth, streaming the sound directly to the wearer’s ears. The ability to connect directly is dependent on the specific hearing aid, as well as the device you wish to connect it to. If you have questions about whether your hearing aids can stream from a device, you can contact your audiologist. Many hearing aid manufacturers also have connectivity helplines where they will answer questions and talk you through the process.
Accessories. If you have hearing aids that are not compatible to stream directly from your device, there are accessories available through your audiologist that can help facilitate streaming. Having an improved sound quality direct to your hearing aids can play a crucial part in your phone call or meeting going smoothly.
If you don’t have a hearing loss, remember that you will encounter others, both virtually, and out in the world, that do. Remember to be patient when others ask for repetitions and try to rephrase what you said instead of simply repeating. Be sure to directly face whomever you’re speaking with, and make sure your face is visible in the camera when meeting virtually. Slowing down your rate of speech can also be helpful, but it’s not necessary to speak more loudly than your typical volume unless someone requests that you do. These changes seem small, but they can make a world of difference when it comes to successful pandemic communication.