Face masks create communication barriers for deaf and hard of hearing during COVID-19 pandemic

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With more people wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's creating challenges for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Alicia Lane-Outlaw of St. Paul is deaf and is having trouble communicating in public because of face masks.  

"My typical communication when I see people talk to me is reading lips and sign language, but I can't see their lips going when the mask is on," she said.

Face masks affect everyone in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Dr. Dave Fabry at Starkey Hearing Technologies says masks cover facial expressions that people who use sign language need to see. He also said those with hearing aids rely on lip-reading to better understand what is being said, and anyone with lower hearing losses will have difficulty with muffled speech.

"A lot of the higher-pitch sounds that are so important for communication, those sounds are reduced to about half of their volume when a person is wearing a face covering or a mask," Fabry said.

A few things you can do when communicating with someone with hearing loss, speak more slowly and a little louder than usual, but don't shout, and try to eliminate as much background noise as possible.

The National Association of the Deaf and the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens have more information on the deaf and hard of hearing community.