After a year, I’m changing how I deal with masked communication difficulties.
I still don’t like wearing masks. It unnerves me that they are going to be a standard facial accessory for a long time to come. But I will continue wearing them, because I don’t believe being asked to wear one is an infringement on heaven-sent rights. Anyone who’s had Covid, as I have, understands we need to stop the spread.
But I also have profound hearing loss. I miss seeing whole faces and not having to struggle or guess what people are saying. Masks obstruct my ability to speechread and to make sense of muffled speech, which I call blabble.
Whining aside, two recent incidents clarified (to me) how I have come a long way in handling the communication barriers of life today.
Last week, I got my first vaccine shot. On the Big Day, I had to run the gamut of masked officials before being seated at a jab-station where a senior gentleman was waiting to puncture me. I was admiring his lovely blue eyes above his mask, when he blabbled something from behind it. I said, “I’m have profound hearing loss and I read lips.”
I was able to make this out his answer, “Oh. Well, that’s going to be a problem.”
As I had no wish to irritate a person who was about to stick me with a sharp object, I quickly said, “I can fix this” and opened my smartphone Otter speech-to-text app. I explained how it worked and he was fascinated. Then we started chatting. “Hello, my name is David and I’m a retired doctor. Mostly family medicine.” I asked, “..and on the other days, was it veterinary medicine?” At his look, I decided this wasn’t the time for bad jokes or small talk.
He administered the vaccine and we used Otter to discuss after-vaccine protocols. I was about to leave and he remembered something else he needed to tell me. “Can you get that speech thing back out?” People like to see their words play out on the screen.
The second incident was at a coffee shop as we were returning from a camping trip.
“Blabble, blabble?” This time, I knew she was just saying, “How can I help you! Or what can I get for you”. The exact words were irrelevant.
“Two small lattes, please.” So far, so good. Then, a small roadblock. “Blabble, blabble?”
I had no idea what she was asking but all I wanted is latte, so what could the complication be? I was tired and not in the mood for playing ball. “I’m deaf and I read lips.” And kept looking at her, eyeball to eyeball, until she broke and looked around for a solution – and found it. She held up the jug of regular milk, with her eyes making a question. “Yes, regular is good, thanks.” I understood how she said the price, $8.80, as eight-eighty. Some blabble is easier to understand than others.
Why did I choose to communicate differently in the two listening situations? The first conversation was clearly going to be more complicated and more important to me. The coffee shop interaction was meant to be short and easy to navigate because I was buying a coffee. The worst that could happen is that I would get a decaf latte made with nut milk rather than cow milk.
I’m getting the hang of staying sane in this Time of Masks. The fabulous Ida Institute, an audiology and hearing health innovator, has published a guide to masked communication. It’s the responsibility of anyone who is involved in a conversation to make it work. Some solutions are better than others, but they take more effort than others. And after a year of masks, I’m sometimes too tired or simply not motivated to pull out all the stops.
But usually? I’m, like, OK, here’s how we’re going to deal with all this blabbling!
Tree Photo credit: Me. This arbutus tree stretching out over the coast has nothing to do with hearing loss. I just like it.
Communication tips credit: Ida Institute