People in masks

COVID-19 has impacted the ways in which we work, live, and connect, but the pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges to the deaf and hard of hearing communities over the last few months. Communication became especially strained by the stay-at-home orders of lockdowns across the country, and social distancing restrictions imposed unforeseen barriers to connection with loved ones. However, innovation and technology have allowed these individuals to find new ways to work around these difficulties.

Below, we’ve outlined the top 5 ways that COVID-19 has impacted the hard of hearing, and tips on how to combat these challenges.

1. IN-PERSON COMMUNICATION

For some, masks provided the freedom for individuals to leave their homes safely, but for others they presented massive barriers to communication, most notably for those in the deaf and hard of hearing communities that rely heavily on lipreading. Earlier on in the pandemic, we conducted a user survey on the ways in which COVID-19 and social distancing single out the hard of hearing, and 51% of respondents indicated that the biggest obstacle they faced due to the pandemic was communication difficulties. Unsurprisingly, 95% of respondents also shared that using masks significantly impacts their ability to successfully communicate with others. Consider purchasing a clear mask to help break this communication barrier or remove your mask if it’s safe to do so and you know you’re communicating with someone who has hearing loss.

2. VIRTUAL WORK

Work-from-home has been a blessing for many but has created challenges for the hard of hearing in the workplace. Our user survey found that for those in their working years, 64% of 30-39 year olds, 62% of 40-49 year olds and 62% of 50-59 year olds, shared that mobile captioning is necessary for them to effectively do their jobs. The ability to obtain real-time, mobile captioning on desktops is especially important considering that the unemployment rate for individuals with a disability is almost twice that of people without a disability. By leveraging desktop captioning services, these individuals can open themselves up to opportunities with video interviews, and mobile captioning allows for the opportunity to successfully communicate over the phone with potential employers and colleagues. 

3. TELEHEALTH

Access to healthcare has always been critical, but the pandemic has made this need even more apparent. Social distancing has pushed the healthcare industry to make telehealth the norm, adding more barriers to communication for the deaf and hard of hearing that struggle with virtual communication. According to our survey, 85% of respondents found that mobile captioning was very important for healthcare. Captioning can be leveraged through all aspects of a typical doctor’s visit, including making the initial appointment, executing the visit, contacting the office for any follow up questions, and beyond. While the pandemic has caused the culture of healthcare to become more innovative, it’s critical that it remains accessible for all.

4. ISOLATION

Our survey findings indicated that those 70 and older felt the most impacted by the communication difficulties due to social distancing. This is likely due to the fact that senior citizens are at greater risk for COVID-19, and tend to follow harsher social distancing guidelines and restrictions, especially those living in senior care facilities. As a result, this means they have been even more cut off from their friends and family than younger individuals, having detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. Captioning on both desktops and mobile phones creates a bridge between loved ones during this time. As we approach the holidays, many might be returning to the popular Zoom parties and dinners to celebrate safely with their families, making desktop captioning something for people to be thankful for this year. 

5. EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

Communication during emergencies needs to be swift and accurate. For the deaf and hard of hearing, communicating with emergency services in times of need can be reason for pause, which is especially dangerous in moments when prompt action is critical. With real-time mobile captioning, members of the hard of hearing community can rely on these services to ensure that their messages are received, no matter the situation. Whether a loved one has fallen ill or natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes put you or your home in danger, real-time services are able to connect you with the help you need.

While the impacts of COVID-19 on the hard of hearing community are plenty and continue to pose challenges, the advancements in captioning technology and resiliency of the community as a whole have enabled individuals to innovate in unforeseen ways to adapt and combat every challenge experienced.