Through the Mask: Clear Communication with Lip Readers and Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Individuals during COVID-19

The Issue

COVID-19 has brought about the need to wear masks when interacting with others who are not in our households or pods.  The CDC has recommended that all who are able to wear cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.  Unfortunately, cloth face masks can make communication difficult for individuals who lip read and individuals who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing.  It’s pretty hard to lip read when your communication partner’s lips are covered!

Possible Solutions

A number of possible solutions to helping keep communication clear and flowing are listed below. You or someone you know may benefit from one or a combination of these ideas.

Clear Face Masks

If you can get your hands on them, clear face masks offer a great alternative to cloth face coverings when communicating with someone who reads lips. Clear face masks allow your communication partner to still be able to see your lips and facial expressions while providing a protective barrier.

woman wearing a clear face mask
Photo credit: The ClearMask

Speech-to-Text

Speech-to-text or voice dictation technology is widespread and built into almost all tablets and smartphones including Android and iOS tablets and smartphones.  Use that handy-dandy microphone button to provide instant, on-the-go captioning!  Check out this blog on three speech-to-text applications and read on to learn about additional options.

Android – Live Transcribe

If you are an Android user, count yourself lucky as you have access to the Live Transcribe app, a free, speech-to-text app by Google that provides real-time transcription at an astonishingly high rate of accuracy.

iOS – Dictation

If you are an iOS user like me, don’t worry!  Open up that Notes app that comes standard on your iPhone or iPad, tap the little pencil in a box at the bottom right corner to create a new note, and then, once you’re in a new note, hit the microphone button on the bottom right of your keyboard et viola! On-the-go transcription.

AVA app

Available for Android and iOS; requires a solid internet connection. AVA offers a step-up to Live Transcribe and iOS Dictation by showing you who is speaking.  The video below does a great job of explaining the AVA app.

Personal Hearing Amplifiers

A personal hearing amplifier (or listener) is a small device worn with earbuds, a headset, or a telecoil neckloop that amplifies incoming sound.  These devices offer a less-expensive alternative to (using earbuds or a headset) or enhancer (using a telecoil neckloop) of hearing aids. The user wears the earbuds (or headset) which are attached to the personal amplifier. The amplifier can either be worn on the user’s body, such as around the neck or on a shirt pocket, or it can be placed next to or held by the user’s communication partner.  It then transmits the amplified sound directly into earbuds.  We frequently use the Comfort Audio Duett and Williams Sound Pockettalker 2.0 personal hearing amplifiers.  The Pockettalker comes with an extra-long, 12′ microphone extender cable for its external microphone which means you can social distance while still benefitting from the Pockettalker’s amplification.

Voice Amplifiers

Traditionally, voice (or speech) amplifiers are used by individuals with soft voices and tour guides. In the time of COVID, I would argue that voice amplifiers can be used by another group: individuals who are communicating with the deaf or hard-of-hearing.  Voice amplifiers increase the volume of the user’s speech output, making it easier for the communication partner to hear what is being said.  Check out our blog on voice amplifiers for more information.

Want to give it a try?

Schedule an in-person or virtual demonstration

We are scheduling in-person demonstrations at our Fargo and Mandan locations.  Safety protocols, including the wearing of masks, hand hygiene, and social distancing, are followed to ensure the safest possible experience for our clients.  We are also offering virtual demonstrations through your video-calling platform of choice (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc.). Please contact our office to arrange an in-person or virtual demonstration.

Short-term loan

Six-week loans of assistive technology devices are available for North Dakota and Minnesota residents through our equipment rental program.  We have Android and iOS tablets loaded with apps, personal hearing amplifiers, and speech amplifiers available.

Here to Help

If you need additional assistance please contact us at info@ndassistive.org or 800-895-4728.