With vaccine #2 under my belt, my thoughts have turned to the post-pandemic world, filling me with both elation and dread. I can’t wait to see friends and family in person, but I worry that communication will remain difficult as mask wearing continues.
I am thrilled to start traveling again but wonder if my favorite destinations will be ready to accept visitors. Live theater performances and new restaurants beckon, but the changes needed to keep them safe may make enjoying these activities tougher.
Reopening will feature many of the same dichotomies as the pandemic itself. There will be highlights and lowlights, as we take our pandemic resilience and our newfound communication tools back out into the world. I am excited for the challenge.
Covid-19 Pandemic Inspired Both Fear & Fortitude
The pandemic has been filled with tragedy and loneliness, but it has also inspired grit and resilience. Like many others, I have been forced to take stock, learning important things about myself and my priorities. Now it’s time to take this knowledge into our post-pandemic lives, rebuilding with intention so that our new normals embody the values and character that we hold dear. My priorities include:
Connections with others
When the pandemic hit, it felt like my world shrunk overnight. No longer was I interacting with different people every day; I was suddenly living in a small bubble comprised only of immediate family and the friends I saw on Zoom. I was lonely, craving human interaction. It gave me a deeper appreciation for my personal relationships.
Hearing loss advocacy provided purpose during the pandemic. There was so much to do — face masks and the abrupt shift to online living created new communication issues that needed to be addressed. The community came together to advocate for our accessibility needs, and we will continue to do so post-pandemic.
For more than 10 years, I have relied on yoga and meditation to help me manage the ups and downs of daily life, including the frustrations of living with hearing loss. When the world changed overnight, I had yoga to sustain me through the transition. Yoga added normality and structure to my day and provided time for self-care — something we all need post-pandemic too.
The Pandemic Spawned Lasting Improvements
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, positive changes emerged that should continue to benefit people with hearing loss going forward.
1. Preference for video calls over audio calls. The world has gone video, meaning the ability to speechread on calls is here to stay. Video calls also often have the option for auto-captions.
2. Acceptance of working from home. More flexible work arrangements benefit all employees, including those with all types of disabilities. Less rigid work norms create an atmosphere where asking for accommodations is viewed more favorably.
3. Greater reach across geographies. Not being local is no longer a reason to skip an important conference or other event. While I miss the hubbub of face-to-face meetings, it is reassuring that we can connect in this new way. Going forward, a mix of both will be wonderful.
4. A more unified hearing loss community. Virtual meetings connected the hearing loss community over great distances and across borders. No matter where we reside, we share more similarities than differences. These bonds are here to stay.
5. More interest in hearing loss. Hearing loss hit the mainstream through movies like Sound of Metal (despite its flaws) and news stories about clear masks. We hope our documentary We Hear You will continue to educate the hearing world about the challenges we face and the resilience we have shown as a hearing loss community.
But Communication Challenges Will Remain
Communication has always been challenging for people with hearing loss, and after more than a year of isolation, our skills will be rusty. The return of the large social gathering may fill some of us with dread. We have adapted to a more solitary life with fewer conversation partners in more controlled listening environments. It will take work — practice and patience — to rebuild our communication skills post-pandemic.
Masks are also likely here to stay. Muffled speech will be an issue and workarounds like speech-to-text apps will remain critical tools. As will self-advocacy. We must continue to let others know about our hearing difficulties and ask for the communication assistance we need. Each time we do, we are educating others about hearing loss and advocating for the broader community.
Despite the challenges, I am eager to get out there and see what the post-pandemic world has in store for us. Aren’t you?
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.