General Learning

Masks Create Challenges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

In latest developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is wearing masks. This creates significant challenges for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, however.

If you know me, you probably know my mother was born profoundly deaf. Having a deaf parent affords me the ability to empathize, at least a little, with people who need inclusive design. Though there remains so much that we can do to be more inclusive for all people, right now I’m worried about my mom.

While my mother is deaf, she can also hear with technology. My mother has two cochlear implants and is able to understand quite a bit of speech due to tenacity and years studying. I spoke (starting at minute 20:23) and wrote about it last year on just how far the technology has come, and that she can now listen to, and enjoy music like never before. All quite hopeful…

The current crisis, however, is creating a new challenge for her.

Firstly, she struggles to understand others without visual cues from their face. Masks create a significant disadvantage for deaf and hard of hearing. As an example, earlier this week a friend hand-delivered a birthday cake (low contact delivery) to my mother, but my mother couldn’t understand the friend because of the mask. Leading my friend to drop her mask. This increases risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The second is she struggles to wear a mask due to her cochlear implants. A deaf or hard-of-hearing person who uses hearing aids or cochlear implants may find that masks that go over the ears or tie around the head can interfere with their hearing assistive devices. The majority of masks work this way, thus finding masks that work, or making their own becomes challenging.

What You Can Do

Masking for People with Cochlear Implant / Hearing Aids

Use an infinity scarf

Mask using infinity scarf
My mother came up with this way of masking to allow her to continue to wear cochlear implant and be masked.
General Learning Reflections

Gaining a Sense

My mother got a second cochlear implant last year and it was turned on last week. The first involved shaving a good bit of her head, much more invasive surgery. This time was much better, outpatient surgery, with a small incision.

Here you can see and hear the difference between her first, 20 years ago, and her new one.

I’ll say my mother is nothing short of amazing. She had never heard, her entire life, and even with the limited capabilities of her first implant, and despite being warned she’d never understand speech, she persevered. She spent hours studying, listening to audiobooks reading along, to *learn* to understand speech. If that’s not being a learn-it-all, I don’t know what is.

And… data makes a difference. The difference between the first and second implant, for me, is the difference between a single instrument and an orchestra.

Below you can hear the before and after comparison – what she heard with her first implant and what she can hear now. This difference is striking.

See the original post here.