One of the key challenges for people with hearing loss, Scott says, is the ability to participate in phone calls, particularly with multiple people, rather than in-person meetings. "Conference calling, you don't have any visual cues. And you don't get the clarity of sound through a telephone that you get with a face to face."
Kim Scott is the executive director of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Sudbury Branch
Scott has had a cochlear implant for three decades, and while it helps her communicate, she says it is important to remember that cochlear implants and hearing aids "don't restore hearing to normal.” "And as a result, you know, everything you know that other just take for granted, it's still a real challenge," Scott said.
While video-calls have the benefit of visual cues, Scott says the audio quality is often poor, and those kinds of calls are inaccessible without computerised note-taking or captioning.
While many people are relishing the ability to get out into the community a bit more, as the province begins to reopen, Scott says people with hearing loss are now facing new barriers. In particular, the face masks and plexiglass barriers that are becoming more and more common.
"It's making it extremely challenging for us to get back out there on any level and be able to communicate and function."
As more people wear face masks, communicating can be more difficult for people with hearing loss
Particularly in noisy environments, Scott says it was already often a challenge to clearly discern what someone was saying. Now, voices are more muffled, and there's no longer the benefit of mouths and facial expressions to aid understanding. "The masks obviously are needed for everybody's safety at this point in time. And we don't want to compromise that. But you know it really increases the stress level, the sense of loneliness, and you know being on the outside of everything when you can't communicate," Scott said.
Scott says concerns around communication and understanding are more than "just a matter of convenience.” "If you're going to visit your doctor, you know already it was very difficult, and now they're wearing masks, you know, and you need to understand, this is important for your health to understand what is being said to you," Scott said. She said she has learned to speak up about her hearing difficulties, and is encouraging others to do the same. She says cashiers will often pull their mask down for a moment, from behind their barrier, so she can better understand them. She also suggests travelling with a pen and paper.
As everyone adjusts to new realities, and new ways of communicating, Scott hopes people's pandemic experiences might give them a better understanding of the isolation that many people experience regularly. "You're getting a little glimpse into what life is like. Not just for a few months, but for your entire life when you live with hearing loss.”