MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A masked-up Minnesota raises challenges for communication, especially for the hearing impaired. But there’s a way we can all understand each other better while wearing masks, hearing loss or not.

Paul Neu, of Plymouth, says he lost some of his hearing from working for years in loud kitchens.

“I want people to know that I have more difficulty hearing than regular people,” he said. “We have fans and hoods, pots and pans banging around.”

Wearing masks has made it extra tough on him to communicate with his coworkers. His hearing aid helps with the volume, but so much else gets lost.

“You can’t tell people’s tone or their mood and we rely more on facial expressions than we do voice,” he said.

Dr. Dave Fabry, of Starkey Hearing Technologies, has studied and worked in hearing science for decades. He says there are three ways COVID-19 safety measures impede communication.

First, social distancing puts us at least twice as far apart as usual.

Second, the masks can muffle what we’re saying.

“The reduction specifically (affects) those higher pitch sounds like ‘sh,’ ‘f,’ ‘s,'” Fabry said.

Third, they prevent the other person from seeing our mouths, something Neu specifically grapples with, especially in louder environments.

“Not having that ability to lip read, it really makes it a little more difficult to hear,” he said.

Fabry has three ways to improve your masked communication.

“Raise the level of your voice a little bit. Speak a little more slowly than you might and if someone is having difficulty hearing you, rather than simply repeating the words exactly as you said, try rephrasing,” Fabry said.

These are behavioral changes many of us may have to start thinking about now, ones Neu has dealt with for years.

“You just tell people to speak louder and it becomes more natural as you do it more and more,” he said.

David Schuman

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