Born with hearing loss in both ears, Teresa Gonzalez grew up compensating for the challenge by learning to read lips.
But now, with face coverings required in most public places to curb the spread of COVID-19, she is among the many people with hearing loss who find it more difficult than usual to communicate.
A human voice typically speaks at about 25 decibels, but face masks can cut the volume nearly in half, Gonzalez said.
“It decreases the understanding of speech, and it creates what appears to be a muffled sound, with really no clarity to it at all,” she said. “In addition to that, people with hearing loss are already isolated enough because of the challenges it brings. With these face masks, they don’t even want to get out of the house.”
Gonzalez, president of the Indianapolis chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, said her organization is working to address the problem in several ways. The chapter is raising funds to purchase face masks that are transparent over the mouth — which she said have been in short supply in Indiana throughout the pandemic — to be worn by those interacting with someone with hearing loss. They’re also including them in medical kits they began assembling before the pandemic began to make doctor or hospital visits easier for those with hearing loss.
The chapter also encourages its members to wear buttons that let people know they have hearing loss. The buttons are available at etsy.com/shop/BeautifullyAware.
In addition, Gonzalez said she uses technology on her smartphone to help communicate when she can’t hear or read lips.
“The Google Live Transcribe app captures spoken words and puts speech to text so you can see what people are saying on a screen,” she said.
With approximately 48 million Americans having some form of hearing loss, according to HLAA, Gonzalez said it’s important for them to know that help and support is always available.
“You are never, never alone in your hearing loss,” she said. “There is always support. Do not be afraid to reach out.”
The HLAA Indianapolis chapter meets monthly, although the meetings have become virtual during the pandemic. Meetings have closed captions and are from 10:15 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday of the month. The mission of HLAA is to provide education, information, advocacy and support to those with all levels of hearing loss.