The Importance of Removing Communication Barriers

by Keegan Noxell

As we continue to navigate our daily lives with COVID-19 present, it is important as ever to continue advocating and raising awareness on the barriers faced by those of us with hearing loss.  The primary barrier being access to communication.

Within our age cohort, we have a diverse range of individuals who are starting their academic or professional career paths and are now experiencing added communication difficulties because of masks and the plexiglass barriers placed in public places.

With the emergence of face masks, simple communication and understanding has been compromised.  It is critical that solutions be developed to remove those barriers, as it not only puts our members’ employment at risk but can lead to higher stress/anxiety levels and listening fatigue, impacting mental health.

With respect to technology, some of the video conferencing platforms used have inadequate captioning options available, which transcribes what is being said verbally into written text.  Without this, communication can be misinterpreted, and key information can go amiss.  As for other platforms, captioning typically requires an additional cost to the user (or host of the meeting) and thus creating another barrier.

Experiences

I am fortunate to not have had too many incidents thus far as I work within a family owned business close by and have limited my outings since the pandemic started, but simple tasks (i.e. ordering food) has proven tricky and often leaves me guessing (and hoping) I have understood the person.

As shared by my peers, those that are out and about regularly have faced daily difficulties as a result of face masks and other barriers present.  Here are a couple of accounts:

Hart Plommer, President of CHHA-YAN, went to a walk-in clinic for a medical concern and left feeling vulnerable and concerned that a correct diagnoses had not been made even after identifying himself as someone with a hearing loss and needing some accommodation from the staff.

“It is the everyday little things that we all used to take for granted that has been significantly impacted.” – Hannah Wade

Hannah Wade, a CHHA-YAN Director, has noticed the impact masks has everywhere she goes, including the realization that she probably appears to be rude when people greet her without getting her attention first at work, or in a grocery store.  As a result, people may stare, waiting for an answer to a question that was never heard.  COVID has pushed Hannah to be more open with those in public places about her hearing level.

Solutions – simple but effective

A common solution is clear face masks to help with lip reading and regain access to visual cues, which help us understand what is being said.

It is important to remember that advocating for our needs is okay, even when we feel vulnerable.  However, when hard of hearing people speak up, it varies on whether advocating was successful, or not, depending on the situation.

When everyone is wearing masks, it is crucial that your voice is clear and projected.  If you are having difficulty hearing, ask the person to rephrase what was said to add further context to the conversation.

Additionally, we suggest having alternatives (i.e. pen and paper to write down your request, using the note application on your smartphone or calm hand gestures to clarify something).

What more can be done?

As communication is a two-way street, it’s important to remind ourselves that we can collectively take steps towards removing barriers, whether it be as individuals, businesses or government – all of us play an equally important role.

As businesses adapt to accommodate its customers, it’s a good opportunity to train employees on the varied communication needs of its customers, so they are better equipped to help someone who is Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing.

As previously written by Hannah, please do not assume that everyone can hear you and thus show patience and kindness towards us, as we are all in this together.  Additionally, speak slowly and clearly, but refrain from yelling.  If misunderstood, try rephrasing the statement differently (i.e. “How would you like to pay today?” to “Are you using credit or debit?”).

Check out this helpful guide geared towards businesses for further tips that will make a positive impact.

The government shall continue taking a proactive approach in working with organizations like the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) to better understand our needs and take into consideration ways to make Canada a more accessible place for all.  Furthermore, they can also continue to support and recommend the use of transparent face masks by the hearing population – as it has mutual benefit and is just one of many steps towards removing barriers for those with hearing loss.