Submitted by Washington State Department of Health
Non-verbals are such an important part of how we connect and communicate with each other. Many of our go-to non-verbals — a smile, a gentle touch, leaning in close to whisper a secret — are either impossible from six feet away, or hidden by our cloth face coverings. This is frustrating for all of us. But so much more so for those of us who are Deaf or hard of hearing and routinely read lips and facial expressions to communicate.
If it is hard for you to hear from 6 feet away or when someone is wearing a mask:
• Consider whether there are apps that may help you. Explore speech-to-text apps or sound-amplifying apps. You may need to practice with them a bit to get the hang of it!
• Carry pen and paper with you and ask people to write down what they are trying to say.
• It might be easier to hear if you can go into another room, remove your mask, and then FaceTime or video chat with your friends.
• If you wear hearing aids, a cloth face covering that ties in the back may interfere with your hearing aids less than one that loops around your ears.
• Ask your audiologist if there are adjustments that might be made to your hearing aids to help you more clearly hear speech that is muffled by cloth face coverings.
If you are not deaf or hard of hearing,
• Use extra patience in communicating. It’s frustrating for all of us when we don’t understand or someone misinterprets what we mean.
• Pay close attention to others as you are communicating. Remember — you don’t have all the nonverbal information you are used to either! It can be easy to misinterpret people. Consider that instead of ignoring you, perhaps someone doesn’t understand you or didn’t hear you at all.
• Use more gestures in your everyday speech. You don’t need to use actual ASL signs — a wave to get someone’s attention, pointing to objects, a shrug, or an eye roll all speak volumes.
• Consider making a face covering that allows others to see your lips as you speak. Some instructions can be found at https://www.hsdc.org/accessible-deaf-friendly-face-mask/.
If you are talking to someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing and someone with them is acting as an interpreter, as you are speaking, look at and speak directly to the person who is Deaf. It is tempting to watch the interpreter sign your words, but you are not having a conversation with the interpreter. Just focus on the person you are conversing with.
You can find more COVID-19 information in American Sign Language on our website.
Practice compassion. Tell your loved ones you care about them. It can feel awkward to state out loud what we are so used to communicating non-verbally. Until we can safely hug, high five, and pat each other on the back, use your words to say, “I love you.” “I’m so proud of you.” “I care about you.”
Information changes rapidly. Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.
Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at www.doh.wa.gov/coronavirus. You can also contact the DOH call center, 6 a.m.-10 p.m., seven days a week at 1–800–525–0127.