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Pardon? Being hard of hearing in a COVID world


By Jamie Williams, Senior Executive

One group that has been overlooked during the COVID-19 pandemic is the disabled community and more specifically those who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Being a hard of hearing person myself, I would know. Whilst this topic is rarely something that I shout about, I think this is an important story to tell. In doing so, I hope that those struggling are accounted and considered for. 

For those that don’t know me, I was born with 75 percent hearing loss. What does that mean? I can hear nothing out of my right ear, and only 50 percent out my left. Having brought some difficulties to my academic and early professional life, I would say that I have, with the generous help of family, friends and colleagues, managed. Key to these efforts are the adoption of coping strategies during moments of difficulty. For instance, making sure that I am sitting in the front row during a talk, or on the right side of the group in meetings, and most importantly that I can see the lips when someone is talking. Or it may be as simple as asking someone to repeat what they have said.  

However, such coping strategies have been thrown out the window by the COVID crisis and deaf people have been confronted with an array of new challenges. 

First, consider face masks. Whilst sub-conscious, for deaf people the majority of knowledge in conversation is absorbed through lipreading. In public situations with background noise, coupled by the lack of the visual aid provide by lips because of the masks, following a conversation becomes even more challenging. Whilst in hospital getting an x-ray last week, the doctor, with a strong Portuguese accent, had to repeat my diagnosis no less than 5 times. Don’t get me wrong, this certainly provided a great deal of laughter and banter. You have got to make light of the situation. However, this conversation merry-go-round is a regular occurrence, and is frustrating to all parties. 

Second, let’s turn to the two-metre distance rule. Whilst being two metres away from someone in conversation may not seem like a problem, for those that struggle to hear it can be. Particularly when coupled with being outside. The temptation to move closer to your companion and risk one’s health is real. 

That said, the changes to our lives caused by Covid have, in some ways, helped.  Online meetings are far easier to follow.  The beauty of virtual, rather than in-person meetings, is that headphones bring you closer to those speaking.  Also, video conferencing means that you are always able to see the lips of those you are speaking to, which isn’t always the case in a physical meeting. 

The measures to protect public health are vital and far more important than one hearing a conversation or instruction. By no means am I suggesting that the Government should abandon these measures to help the deaf community – far from it. However, awareness of those struggling is important. My advice is if you cannot hear, voice your concerns. If you are talking to an elderly family member or friend you know struggles with hearing, ask them if they can hear. The little gestures really do add up.