Audiology doctors raise awareness of clear masks for the hearing-impaired

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CHANTILLY, Va. (WDVM) — As COVID-19 continues to spread, the CDC has recommended everyone wear face coverings when going out. However, this raises a problem for those who are hearing-impaired.

“When you have hearing difficulties, you rely a lot on visual cues to be able to fill in the gaps and understand what is being said,” said Pinky Khatri, doctor of audiology at Family Hearing Services in Chantilly, Virginia. “When you wear a mask, you no longer have those visual cues to follow along the conversation.”

One solution is the use of clear masks, which lets people see lips moving.

Khatri said one of the biggest concerns for hearing-impaired people is visits to the hospital or going for virus tests. Clear masks would help ease communication difficulties during medical visits.

She said she has reached out to local groups so health care providers can have more clear masks. One, in particular, is the Million Mask Challenge based in Virginia; Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

Dr. Courtney Little of Family Hearing Services, said as someone who is hearing-impaired herself, she has experienced the limitations of traditional masks firsthand.

“Regular masks not only take away the visual cues that many, many people rely on, but it also muffles the sound coming out,” she said. “It really makes people less aware of annunciating their words and looking at the speaker, because they don’t think that’s important because their mouth is covered.”

Little also cited the benefits for those who are not hearing-impaired because, she said, many people still read lips to a certain degree.

“It’s very important to me to not let the hearing-impaired become isolated,” she said. “Joining up with this program to give as many people the clear masks as possible, but not only the hearing impaired but people who work with the hearing impaired, and people in the community. The last thing you want to see is people not going out, not communicating with others.”

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