Coronavirus and hearing loss
The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted on all of us.
The UK and the rest of the world has adopted new measures to combat the spread of the virus, including:
- Social distancing (keeping 1-2m apart from others)
- Mandatory face coverings in public spaces (shops, supermarkets, and public transport)
- 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:
- Face 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. (For face covering exemptions in different parts of the UK please refer to the specific guidance for England,Northern Ireland, Scotland 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.
- Transparent 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™, 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.
- 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. 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/
The social distancing measures put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives.
There is a greater reliance on video and telephone calls as many face-to-face services were paused. 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.
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.
Healthy Hearing: COVID-19 and hearingloss – what do we know?
Age UK: Coronavirus guidance
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Page updated January 2021