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Communicating in the Time of Coronavirus

No one imagined it could happen here. The Coronavirus felt so far away, that it would never reach us. Until the worst happened. As a result, we’re staying home and doing our best to make the most of this time.

Covid-19 and social distancing are impacting everyone in some way or another. But what about those with hearing loss? Due to changes in daily life, they are experiencing unique challenges. What can we do to ease these difficulties?

Feelings of Isolation

Be sure you’re checking in on all your loved ones, but especially those with hearing loss and older adults. Under the best of circumstances, they may already experience feelings of isolation. If they live alone or can’t participate in conversations without accommodations, this time may be even more difficult.

How do you check-in? If they are able to use the phone or a TTY, give them a call. Please be sure to speak clearly and enunciate. If not, try a video chat, especially if they can better understand face-to-face communication, read lips, or use sign language.

Want some more creative ideas? Show up at their house and wave or sign through the window. Try letter writing or homemaking a card. You can even send them care packages filled with some of their favorite things, or hobby activities. Anything you do to show you are thinking of them can make a difference in how they experience social distancing.

Accessibility & Work

As companies are finding ways to continue to be productive, remote work and virtual meetings are on the rise. Make sure you’re including those on your team with hearing loss. Give your staff all the resources they need to be successful. For ideas and tips, on how to make your virtual meetings more accessible go to Zoom’s Accessibility Tips Here.

For those still working on location, most are wearing masks. This makes speech muffled. When someone with hearing loss cannot read your lips, communication could be impossible. Speak slowly and clearly. Utilize hand signals and written communication, to supplement your speaking.

Medical Care

What if a loved one with hearing loss has to go to the hospital? It is imperative the entire hospital staff is aware of the hearing loss and what method of communication is best for the individual. Conversations regarding their health with medical staff must be as effective as possible so all parties have accurate and up-to-date information.

According to Nicholas Reed, AuD, Assistant Professor of Audiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, people with hearing loss have a 47% higher rate of hospitalization, spend 2.5 days longer in the hospital and have a 44% increased risk of readmission within 30 days. Efficient and effective communication could improve the situation drastically.

Other Ways to Help

It’s important to realize we don’t know everyone’s story and that you can encounter someone with hearing loss in places like the grocery store, pharmacy, or doctor’s office. Be aware of your surroundings, so you can know if someone near you needs assistance.

The extra time we’re all spending at home is ideal to learn a new skill, like sign language. Not sure where to get started? There’s no shortage of resources, such as YouTube, where one can learn to sign from home, often for free. Start with learning to finger-spell the alphabet. If this is all you learn, you can still communicate with anyone who knows sign language! But why stop there? Learn a few important phrases, like how to introduce yourself or ask if someone needs help.

As we all get used to a new way of life, please think about those with hearing loss, whether they are loved ones, colleagues, or strangers you may encounter. Below I have included some links that may be helpful during this time. Please, stay safe and healthy!

Zooms Accessibility Page

Basic Sign Language Videos-Getting Started

The Alphabet


Beginner Phrases

Danette Jackson, AuD

Doctor of Audiology, Board Certified in Audiology

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