COVID-19 Mandates and Impact on Speech Intelligibility

A recent article from the ASHA Leader reports that COVID-19 Mask Use and Social Distancing Guidelines are reported to decrease intelligibility of spoken language by 3-12 dB and even more so for individuals with hearing loss. It is reported that with every three feet of social distance, coupled with environmental noise, the volume of sound in conversation is ultimately measured to be cut in half. It is also reported that people with hearing loss who may wear hearing aids, may struggle with wearing their H.A as they can become dislodged, tangled, or lost as individuals attempt to wear and take off their face masks as needed.. AS COVID -19 has continued, clear speech masks have been marketed to allow for better lipreading. Research has shown that these masks ironically contribute to more blocked sound compared to cloth, paper, or surgical masks. As the CDC has begun recommending people to wear double masks, more challenges with speech intelligibility are suspected for all listeners , especially those with hearing impairment . Technology supports are currently being developed including pandemic driven hearing aid programming options to increase volume and  to accentuate essential high frequency sounds needed for effective hearing. In addition, new assistive listening supports and visual supports (e.g handwriting, speech to text) options are now better available to improve a listener’s communication experience during the pandemic. 

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