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Coronavirus Obstacles: Public's Use Of Masks Providing Big Challenges For Hearing Impaired

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The coronavirus pandemic and the health guidelines that have come along with it are creating challenges for all of us.

As CBS2's Nick Caloway reported Thursday, that includes those with hearing loss.

While the new mask culture is helping to slow the spread of coronavirus, it's also creating very real tests for some.

"So whenever I see someone with a mask, and they're covered, it's almost like my eyes are covered as well," Manhattan resident Toni Iacolucci said.

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Iacollucci is nearly completely deaf. She relies on speech reading or technology like phone apps to communicate.

Masks make lip-reading impossible.

"When I know that I'm going to be in that situation where I have to communicate with a mask, my stomach just drops. Because I have completely lost my ability to communicate, to hear any sound at all," Iacolucci said.


Other new realities are creating challenges. Those plastic barriers at grocery stores can muffle sound. And social distancing makes it harder for people with hearing loss to hear.

"Because social distancing alone is taking normal communication and then doubling the distance," said Dr. Nicole Raia, senior clinical audiologist at University Hospital in Newark.

Raia said even more serious challenges arise in hospitals.

"They can't necessarily communicate very well with their providers, and things are just happening so quickly in that emergency room setting that they may not be able to effectively understand what's going on," Raia said.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As we settle in for a long battle with coronavirus, the masks aren't going away any time soon. So, it's more important than ever for hospitals and even businesses to make accommodations.

Still, Dr. Raia said the patient is always their own best advocate.

"Not every provider will realize that a patient has hearing loss. So, first identifying and saying to your provider, 'I have hearing loss. Can you speak a little slower and face me?'" Raia said.

As states reopen and we start to get out more, clear face coverings are becoming more popular. Experts say they won't work in hospital settings just yet, but they might be handy for friends, family, and co-workers.

After all, some 48 million Americans live with hearing loss.

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