The pandemic has changed the way we leave our living spaces. Wearing masks and physical distancing are common practices as the world navigates through reopening of our communities while keeping each other safe. I am 100% in favor of protecting myself and others from COVID 19 but also want to share firsthand how this has impacted me. I am certain there are others who can relate.
I was born with bilateral hearing loss and went through the public schools. I wear a hearing aid in my left ear and a new CI in my right ear and use personal DM technology in compromised listening situations like the car. (You might be more familiar with the term “FM”). In addition to my personal journey, I am also an educational audiologist with over 20 years of experience. Throughout my personal and professional life, I have had challenges with my hearing loss. I view my hearing loss not as a disability, but as a unique part of who I am that makes me a stronger person. Through grit and self-determination, I find solutions.
Then the pandemic occurred. The combination of physical distancing and the use of cloth masks has amplified my feeling of having a disability. Going out in public has become very stressful for me. The simple act of checking out at the grocery store created a level of anxiety as soon as the checkout lady began talking. I immediately felt a loss of control and felt at a complete disadvantage with the lack of speechreading (mask), physical distance, Plexiglas, and grocery store acoustics. My coping strategies of getting closer to a person, speech reading, and reading their facial expressions were stripped away. I was MASKED out (EXHAUSTED).
To finish my pandemic story, I have pushed through my anxiety and returned to the grocery store (I like to cook!). When I returned, the deli counter worker was wearing a face shield. I immediately felt a sense of relief. Yes, it was still difficult to hear due to distance and background noise, but the face shield allowed me to implement coping strategies of speech reading and reading facial cues to facilitate conversation.
I think these pictures tell a powerful story.
As your child goes back to school, I encourage all of you to look at life through the invisible lens of hearing. Every child is different and the supports and accommodations will vary. Being creative, forward thinking, and collaboration with the school will help promote a balance between a safe return to school and needed access to the curriculum.
One consideration that you may want to share with the school is the option for using face shields as a face covering. Check out the accompanying article for the Educational Audiology Association for detailed information about this consideration and another article I contributed to about the various masks and shields. Kids need full access AND they need to return to school safely. Tweaks can be made to improve accessibility for children with hearing challenges, which in turn, will help all learners.