Director of Canadian Hearing Services (CHS), Rex Banks, says that public spaces may be difficult to navigate with mandatory face masks. The doctor of audiology says that this issue has been on the forefront since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Since people have been wearing masks I have been receiving email or phone calls from people who are deaf or hard of hearing of difficulties communicating in the new world in which they live…I’m also hearing from hospitals or other professionals who are looking at how to best communicate,” he said.

Banks says that now that businesses are beginning to welcome more people indoors – with facemasks being required – communication will be even more important.

“I think it’s really important to practice really good communication strategies. Don’t yell. Yelling doesn’t always help. Do speak a little louder and a little slower. You can also repeat messages if needed and ask if they understand,” Banks explains.

Banks says that there have been some unique innovations that have helped people with hearing impairments navigate a world where they cannot read lips.

“You can simply open up the notes app on your phone and use the microphone to auto-dictate what you’re saying so that people who are hard of hearing can read it. So just talk into your phone like you were making a note and show it to the deaf or hard-of-hearing person and it does work from behind a mask or face shield.”

With everyone’s face behind a mask, Banks says it will affect a large portion of the Canadian population.

“Up to a third of Canadians have some level of hearing loss. That can be anything from profound hearing loss to mild high-frequency hearing loss. But sounds are softer when behind a face mask and they don’t carry as well.”

The Government of Canada has addressed this issue on its website:

“If the person who is hearing impaired and their communication partner do not have symptoms of COVID-19, an alternative measure can be used so that masks do not need be worn. The communication partner can wear a clear face shield which covers to below the chin. In these situations, the longer the shield the better. The same should be done with a person who is hearing impaired, if tolerated,” the website states.

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit has made face masks or face shields mandatory in all indoor spaces or places where it is difficult to physically distance starting on July 24.