Navigating face masks when you’re hard of hearing

I’ve been dreading this phase of the pandemic – the phase where everybody tries to get ‘back to normal’, except that everybody is still halfheartedly trying to keep two metres away from everyone else, and everybody is wearing face masks in enclosed spaces like public transport and business premises.

I can absolutely deal with the two metres thing, although I think keeping that distance is absolutely impossible in some of the situations that are now being encouraged again (who’s going to be able to maintain that in a crowded pub full of drunk people? STEERING CLEAR). It’s the mask thing that’s the problem.

As some of you will be aware, I’m hard of hearing, and have been since early childhood. Over the course of my life I have gradually learnt to rely on a combination of hearing aids (which are much more effective than they used to be now that the technology has moved on) and lipreading, which is so subconscious I don’t even realise I’m doing it most of the time. But I do need to do it – something that is made painfully clear whenever I’m struggling with a phone call to someone who doesn’t realise that they need to speak up.

When I’m deprived of my sensory aids for any reason, I enter Hairdresser World. Hairdresser World is named for the situation at the hairdresser when, in order to get my hair cut, I have to remove both my hearing aids and my glasses. My hearing without aids compared to my hearing with them can best be described to a fully-hearing person as like being underwater (i.e. conversation is difficult at best), and without my glasses, lipreading is also hampered. As such, haircuts are a bit of a miserable experience – either I have a chatty hairdresser to whom I can’t respond appropriately, or I have my hair cut in silence while every other customer in the shop chatters away like a normal person! Hairdresser World is not a nice place, and I’m always so glad at the end of the haircut when I can put my hearing aids and glasses back on my head.

So… a world in which we all wear masks, then.

Masks look cool, I have to say. They sort of make everyone look like they’re in an apocalyptic movie. But if we’re all going to be wearing them for the next few months at least, then… the whole world becomes Hairdresser World, for me, in some ways. Because if someone is wearing a mask, I can’t lipread what they’re saying, and so our conversation is going to be hampered.

Enter the transparent mask.

Transparent face masks
Lipreading is not hampered as much when someone is wearing one of these.

Geth bought a couple of these for us this week. Obviously, wearing a transparent mask myself when somebody else is wearing an opaque one is not going to solve the problem, but my aim with this is to promote the wearing of transparent masks and hopefully raise a small amount of awareness.

So far, I’ve only tried out the mask for a few minutes at a time. The transparent section does steam up slightly, but not enough that I can’t see Geth’s mouth when he’s wearing his mask. As such, it’s a relatively workable solution, and one I hope that more people will adopt if mask-wearing is going to become a long-term thing.

Or alternatively, I could just continue to stay at home until all of this blows over. Whenever that may be…

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