2020 has, so far, been an unprecedented year and one I’m sure we all won’t forget in a hurry (even if we may want to). One thing I think 2020 has taught us, is to look out for each other and to treat each other with kindness.
Why awareness for hearing loss is more important than ever
We may not know how deeply Coronavirus has affected individuals and their families and so we are more considerate, and cautious of how we interact with them. I truly believe this is a positive consequence of the virus and one I hope continues long into the future, when life goes back to “normal”, whatever that may look like.
Prior to March 2020, and the shutdown of life as we knew it, we were making great strides in raising the public awareness of hearing loss and the effects it can have on our daily life, and especially, mental health. Now, I can’t help but feel that the D/deaf/hearing impaired community has been a little forgotten amidst the pandemic, when it is actually more important than ever.
Our current “normal” involves working from home, limited contact with friends and family (if at all) and wearing face masks whilst shopping, in public places and on public transport. Whilst these measures are understandable, and fully supported in the fight against Coronavirus, some of these bring a multitude of difficulties for the D/deaf/hearing impaired community. I’ll explain some of the issues we face and provide some helpful tips that can help to avoid or resolve them.
The problem with facemasks is two-fold for me; firstly, finding a facemask that doesn’t interfere with my cochlear implant and secondly, understanding people speaking whilst wearing a facemask.
Generally speaking, facemasks tend to have two strings at the side for hooking over your ear. As a CI user and glasses wearer, these designs are highly impractical as either the mask, my glasses or my CI processor falls off. My top tip for hearing aid/CI wearers and even people who wear glasses – find a facemask that has strings that go over your head, or even better, ties around your head (kind of like a masquerade mask but more secure). I have found that not only do they prevent my CI processor/glasses from falling off, but often, the fit is far more snug and secure. Similar masks can be found here.
I have also found, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, that trying to hear someone talk in a mask is hard work, especially without being able to lip-read. There are a few things, both those speaking and the D/deaf person, can do to help.
For those speaking:
- Try to project your voice slightly louder than your normal volume (key: do NOT shout!) as sometimes speech can be muffled.
- Use hand gestures if necessary, visual clues can be really helpful, especially in the absence of lip-reading
- If possible, purchase a facemask that has a clear covering around your mouth so the D/deaf/hearing-impaired person can lip-read. I know this isn’t practical for everyone, but if you’re curious, transparent facemasks can be found here.
For the D/deaf person:
- Perhaps carry a notebook and pen with you in case you encounter such a problem and ask the person to write down what they are saying.
Working from home
Working from home sounds wonderful in theory; thoughts of getting up 10 minutes before you log on, still in your pajamas and having a leisurely working day fill your head. The reality though is quite different, especially for those who have young families at home.
One of my biggest annoyances of working from home is online calls/meetings via Teams/Zoom/Cisco; especially if there are more than a handful of you participating. It can often get loud, confusing to follow and there will always be that one person who has internet issues and keeps freezing mid call. It is a nightmare to navigate as a D/deaf/hard of hearing person. I highly recommend Google Chat because they have closed captions which are actually pretty accurate, do not take up the whole screen and are easy to follow. If you can, recommend colleagues/friends/family use this method for contacting you.
Limited contact with family, friends & colleagues
Sadly, human contact has been limited since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic and I think it is one that we have all really struggled with, especially those living alone, are elderly, or are affected by furlough and job losses. Interaction with friends, family and even work colleagues is hugely beneficial to our mental health and unfortunately, mental health issues have increased significantly since the pandemic.
D/deaf/hearing impaired individuals are at an increased risk of suffering from depression due to the feeling of isolation it can invoke, especially in those who have profound hearing loss. According to a 2019 study, one in five adults with hearing impairments had symptoms of clinical depression, add a global pandemic and national lockdowns into this equation and the figure becomes much higher.
This is a very personal challenge, and one I can only provide suggestions for:
- Check in with family, friends and colleagues, whether by phone/online chat/text/email etc to provide regular communication. Also, check in on elderly neighbours too.
- Perhaps create a weekly social event that can be done online i.e. online quizzes/movie nights etc.
- Sign up to and use the NextDoor neighbourhood app, you might make new friends or learn something new about your neighbourhood.
- Sign up to an online course and learn a new skill – there’s nothing like using the old brain every now and then.
- Explore your local area by taking walks on routes you haven’t yet walked down.
- Find a new hobby – during lockdown I found a new interest in Origami!
- Exercise – there are a lot of online resources for exercises, whether full on cardio or low-key yoga. Exercise releases endorphins which trigger a positive feeling in the body.
No matter how you spend your time during this pandemic, take care of yourself, be kind to others as well as yourself and most importantly, stay safe.