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COVID-19 - Communication strategies for people with hearing loss

On May 6, 2020

People who are hard of hearing or deaf are facing communication difficulties that were unforeseen at the beginning of this crisis. If you take care of a loved one in this situation, you may have noticed some of these difficulties.

While provincial and federal press briefings use sign-language interpreters, other more everyday actions are not adapted. Wearing a mask, which by definition hides the mouth, is a problem for people with hearing loss, who read lips, and people who are deaf, who communicate using sign language and for whom facial expressions are very important for conveying emotions.

In this case, how can you check that the information has been properly conveyed? As a caregiver, how can you ensure that professionals understand your loved one and vice versa? Here is a portrait of the communication strategies available to facilitate exchanges with people who are hard of hearing or deaf.


Strategies for medical appointments

The Association Audition Québec (in French) disseminates information messages designed to provide practical tips to people with hearing loss and their loved ones. Wearing a mask may cause stress and fear during an authorized medical appointment. While no solution is yet available to resolve this problem, other strategies exist to facilitate exchanges and reassure both you and the care receiver.

  • Appointments by telephone

For COVID-19 screening or required care of a medical condition, most appointments are taking place by telephone. Whether or not you live with your loved one, you can connect to the teleconference to facilitate the discussion. You may also ask to accompany your loved one on the day of their appointment, provided that you live with them.

  • Preparing for the consultation

To ensure that you are not caught off guard, it is very helpful if you prepare for the consultation ahead of time. Some of the information that you or your loved one can write on a piece of paper and give to the care staff upon your arrival is the health insurance number, date of birth, list of medications, medical conditions (diabetes, asthma...). If screening is involved, also write down the answers to the security questions: Have you travelled? Have you been in contact with someone who has travelled? Do you have any symptoms?

  • During the consultation

Whether your loved one goes alone or with you to their appointment, saying that they have hearing loss will prevent situations of frustration or impatience. Once advised, medical staff will be able to adjust their actions. Do not hesitate to ask them to enunciate clearly – even with a mask, that may help – or to speak louder, without shouting. Paper and pen may also help make communication easier. Audition Québec also reminds you to have all accessories, chargers and batteries that usually aid in better understanding (hearing devices, telephone amplifiers…) with you.


Tips for everyday

If you help a person who is hard of hearing or deaf, but the situation is recent, you might not have all the reflexes to facilitate your exchanges. While email can prevent hassles, know that there are good practices in video-conferencing procedures that may allow you to keep visual contact while talking (in French).

With respect to online videos, subtitles are generally activated automatically. If this is not the case, check whether they can be set up this way.


In the current context, other resources are also available to people who are deaf or hard of hearing:

And what about the masks?

To counter the problem in terms of reading lips, masks with a see-through window are currently being assessed in Europe. Audition Québec sent a request to the Institut national de Santé publique du Québec to receive clear directive on the manufacturing of these. The most significant issues are regarding the safety of this model, especially the impermeability all around the window and the risks of condensation. For the moment, the project is under review. Audition Québec will post all updates regarding it on its Facebook page.

Thank you to Ms. Jeanne Choquette, president of Audition Québec, for her valuable collaboration in writing this article.