Wearing Masks…and Glasses…and Hearing Aids
Authors: Amy Potts, TSBVI Parent
Keywords: deafblind, masks, COVID-19, pandemic, hearing aids, American Sign Language, ASL
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COVID restrictions can pose particular challenges for individuals with a combined vision and hearing loss. The requirements for wearing masks and social distancing may be difficult for them to understand, and the change from the usual routine may be upsetting. Our 14-year-old son Rees is deafblind and is a student at TSBVI. He participated in at-home learning last spring during the pandemic, and when it was time for him to go back to school in person, we realized that it was time to really focus on having him wear a mask. We knew that this would not be easy for him, as he wears both bilateral hearing aids and glasses, which means that he already has a lot of things on his face and behind his ears.
I met with his TSBVI team frequently during the transition, and we all brainstormed ideas to help Rees learn to accept wearing a mask. His wonderful Residential Instructor, Danielle Caren, made a video just for him, based on one of his favorite “Pete the Cat” books. The video features a story called “Rees Loves His Green Mask” which is presented through American Sign Language (ASL) and song. The story is based on the 2008 book, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean, published by HarperCollins. I created an avatar (a graphic representation of a person) of a boy wearing glasses and a green mask to add another visual element to the video.
I Love My Green Mask
Rees absolutely loved this video and watched it over and over. This definitely helped him get used to wearing the mask and to associate it with one of his favorite staff people, as well as a song he enjoyed. In addition, his teacher had the students wearing masks during their Zoom calls even before they came back to campus. As a result, Rees learned to tolerate his mask well before returning to the classroom.
Considerations in Choosing Masks
I decided that it would be easier for my son to identify his own masks if all 10 masks required for school were identical. I ordered 10 green masks online. The fabric is thin and soft, so that it is not too uncomfortable behind his ears. I attached tactile name tags to help Rees and others recognize the owner. An eyeglass strap clips to the ear loops of the mask to keep it from getting tossed on the ground. If he pulls off the mask, it won’t go all the way to the floor, which makes it easier for him to find again, as well as being more hygienic.
We experimented with several mask styles to find the one Rees found the most comfortable behind his ears. It’s also possible to use mask extenders that pull the loops of the mask away from the back of the ears. Search “mask extender” online and you’ll find many options to make or purchase.
All masks can block or distort sounds, especially for high frequency sounds. Rees’ audiologist turned up the high frequency setting in his hearing aids, which helped. Some hearing aids now have a “mask” setting (“Face Mask Mode”), which can be helpful as well.
Tips for Communicating with Those with Vision and/or Hearing Loss
Clear masks are great to wear when communicating with an individual who relies on lip reading. But for those with both vision and hearing loss, clear masks create even more sound blockage and distortion, plus those with low vision are less likely to lip read.
To help Rees hear someone who is wearing a mask, we sent the bluetooth microphone that pairs with Rees’ hearing aids to school (it is similar to an FM System that may be used by some students). It can be worn by anyone working with him and gives him an extra boost.
Center for Hearing and Communication (May 7, 2020). Face Masks and Hearing Loss. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22Wl7LvWvLo&feature=youtu.be
Living with Hearing Loss (August 25, 2020). Hearing Loss: Are Clear Masks Really the Answer? https://livingwithhearingloss.com/2020/08/25/hearing-loss-are-clear-masks-really-the-answer/
Public Health — Seattle & King County (May 11, 2020). Information on Face Coverings for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Blind Community Members. https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/care/~/media/depts/health/communicable-diseases/documents/c19/face-coverings-guidance-ASL.ashx
The Hearing Review (August 6, 2020). “Face Mask Mode” Now Offered in Signia Hearing Aids. https://www.hearingreview.com/practice-building/office-services/telehealth/face-mask-mode-now-offered-in-signia-hearing-aids
For more ideas about wearing masks, also see:
- Ideas for Helping Students with Multiple Disabilities Including Deafblindness Wear Masks and Face Coverings https://www.pathstoliteracy.org/strategies/ideas-helping-students-multiple-disabilities-including-deafblindness-wear-masks-and-face
- Teaching COVID-Related Concepts to Students with Multiple Disabilities or Deafblindness https://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/teaching-covid-related-concepts-students-multiple-disabilities-or-deafblindness