Facial coverings impact the hearing impaired community


EP Cassidy, Reporter

Since May, the increase of COVID cases has led to the need for facial coverings, and has made it considerably difficult for the hearing impaired community to communicate. Simple interactions with people becomes almost impossible due to masks covering lips. The members of the hearing impaired community are frustrated with the challenge in the midst of the pandemic. 

“When talking to my students who have been out into the community, like a grocery store or bank with their family, they’re saying that it is a problem,” HC Speech Pathologist Kelly Curry said. 

Speaking and communicating for the hearing impaired community relies heavily on facial expressions and visual cues. 

“When it is a regular typical mask, they are losing out on a huge percentage of facial expression,” Curry said. “We also know that we are losing about 10 decibels of sound coming out with just a regular mask.” 

The lack of sound and facial expressions while wearing facial coverings make communicating significantly more difficult. 

“Then, there is the lip reading part of it,” Curry said. “We all lip read. I think that those who are typical, myself included, we watch people’s mouths and when we can’t see them. It’s almost like we can’t hear.”

A large part of communication is non-verbal, and most people overlook that. Not seeing someone’s full face while wearing a mask is not just difficult for the hearing impaired community, but also for the rest of the world. As humans, conveying countless emotions without speaking at all is a way of communicating. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across many different cultures. 

Some individuals do not realize how much they rely on facial cues, until they do not have them anymore. 

“I honestly didn’t think much of it until I had a job interview, and they had a mask on,” HC Senior Smith Brewer said. “It was totally freaking me out, because I really couldn’t tell if they were liking what I was saying or if they weren’t.” 

Facial cues play a large role in communication, and with the need for masks it can make it difficult to communicate as effectively. 

“You don’t really know, and it can be a little tense in the conversation because you don’t really know how they’re feeling or how they reacted to what you said,” HC freshman Melahnia Browne said. “So, if you said something a little offensive, you might not have known because you can’t really see their facial expressions.” 

Interpreting facial expressions are an important part of communication, but it is now compromised by facial coverings. This will continue to be a problem for all of society, but especially the hearing impaired community.