Hearing Link

Coronavirus and hearing loss

The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted on all of us.

The UK and the rest of the world has adopted new ways of living to combat the spread of the virus, including:

  • Social distancing (keeping 1-2m apart from others)
  • Encourage the use of face coverings in public spaces (shops, supermarkets, and public transport – please refer to specific guidance for your own local area)
  • Local and national lockdown restrictions.

While these are essential and sensible precautions to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, it has had unintended consequences for people who are deaf or living with hearing loss.

Face coverings and lipreading

Widespread use of face masks / coverings have created a huge barrier for individuals who rely on lipreading.

They reduce clarity of speech and being unable to see mouth or facial expressions makes it impossible for people who lipread or use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate effectively. This could pose a risk to their health and safety.

Face masks / coverings can also make people with hearing loss feel isolated and anxious, and too worried to leave their homes, in case they are not able to communicate with others if they need to.

If you are struggling to communicate while out and about, here are some things that could help:

man wearing a transparent face maskFace mask/covering exemptions: If you are with a person who relies on lipreading, you could be exempt from wearing a face covering so you can support communication with them. It’s understandable that some people may not feel comfortable travelling without a mask on public transport in case it leads to confrontation. You can alert others to your exemption by using a ‘Face Mask exempt’ or ‘I am with someone who lipreads’ badge or an exemption card. (Face covering exemptions and restrictions vary in different parts of the UK, please refer to the specific guidance for England,Northern IrelandScotland and Wales.)

Face mask / covering exemption cards: There are free and purchasable cards that you can obtain to alert others to your face covering exemption. The UK Government has created a series of downloadable cards for use on your smartphone or by printing. The Scottish Government has produced a free card which you can request in a digital or physical format by completing an online form or calling 0800 121 6240. In Wales, you can download a bilingual face covering exemption card from the Welsh Government website. There are also different alternatives available to buy through the Hidden Disabilities Store or Hearing Link Shop.

Accessible face coverings: There are many types of lipreading-friendly face coverings available online, from clear window masks to face shields, visors and fully transparent alternatives. By wearing a transparent face mask, such as the ClearMask™ or windowed alternatives such as Clear Expression Face Coverings, you will be helping to reduce the barriers that lipreaders and BSL users face, making their lives much easier. And, if you rely on lipreading yourself, you could benefit from a covering which alerts others to the fact that you have certain communication needs, such as the ‘I have hearing loss and I lipread’ face covering (pictured right).

Deaf awareness products: There are discreet and visual ways of alerting others to your communication needs. By wearing a pin badge, wristband or lanyard with supporting communication card it will tell others that you have a hearing loss or rely on lipreading. If you are a business or frontline health worker you might also want to consider wearing a badge that encourages lipreaders to ask for assistance. The ‘If you need to lipread me badge’ is a great option for you, your staff or colleagues to wear to assist with communication. Visit the Hearing Link Shop to browse our full range of products.

You can also find out useful tips for communicating with lipreaders while face coverings are mandatory on the Hearing Dogs website.

Losing hearing aids

With the introduction of face masks/ coverings, hearing aid users have reported that they are losing their hearing aids more frequently.

RNID has produced an information video, which details ways to keep your hearing aids safe while face coverings are mandatory. Visit their website for their subtitled video.

You can also reduce the risk of losing your hearing aid with a securing clip. The HEAR Ear is designed for Behind the Ear (BTE) hearing aids. For more details visit shop.hearinglink.org/hearear/

Or you can consider wearing a face mask extender which keeps the straps of a face covering away from your ears, reducing the risk of losing your hearing aids. These are available from many online retailers.

Hearing access

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live our lives.

There is a greater reliance on video and telephone calls as many face-to-face services have been paused or slowly being reintroduced. This can create anxiety for people who are unable to hear well on the telephone or are unsure how to access communication support such as subtitles, captions or BSL interpretation.

Ideas for Ears has produced a guide so businesses can improve their understanding of hearing access, and ways in which to create hearing-friendly environments. Read their information page.

Mum of two Amy Morton, started her Living with Hearing Loss campaign to raise awareness of face masks and coverings, and also encourage businesses to be lipreading-friendly for people with hearing loss. Find out more about her campaign here.

Useful articles

NHS: How to wash your hands

RNID: Face covering exemption rules – how well are they understood

Healthy Hearing: COVID-19 and hearingloss – what do we know?

Age UK: Coronavirus guidance

Which?: Clear face masks, what to know before you buy.

 

This article contains links to external websites. Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and Hearing Link are not responsible for the content of these sites.

Please make sure you follow Coronavirus guidelines in your own country – Click here for advice in EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland


Webpage updated: September 2021

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