This year for Better Hearing Month, the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association and American Academy of Audiology are focusing on communication and hearing care during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the last several weeks, companies have had to find innovative ways of connecting with their employees, such as Zoom meetings, Google Hangout, FaceTime, and telemedicine visits. These platforms are often acoustically challenging as a result of software glitches, WiFi connection strength, grainy images, small screens, and poor lighting. For those with hearing loss, these conditions can be frustrating and difficult for communicating.
As hurdles occur over these platforms, what are some strategies that can be used to improve communication?
First things first! Optimize your surroundings before the meeting or virtual chat. Avoid places such as the kitchen or tile floored rooms where the hard surfaces create poor acoustics like echoing. Instead, try the living room, bedroom, or office which will have softer surfaces to reduce echoing. Proper lighting is also very important! Keep light sources across from you, and avoid lights being behind you. Lights pointing at you improve the quality of the video and give a clear picture of your face; lighting behind your head creates dark face and poor image quality. For those with hearing difficulties, seeing facial expressions and mouth movements are especially important for understanding what the speaker is saying.
Optimize your technology by checking your Wifi signal strength prior to your meetings to avoid the audio and video from cutting in and out, or having a grainy appearance. If there are competing background noises making it difficult for you to hear such as children playing or the dog barking, try using headphones connected to the computer or smart device to reduce as much background noise as possible. For those who wear hearing aids, many of those now have direct Bluetooth technology. Contact your audiologist for help learning how to pair your hearing aids to the computer if they have the technology available. If you have the ability to, record the meetings. That gives you the opportunity to review and rewind so no information goes missed.
Optimize how you communicate by muting your microphone while others are speaking in the virtual meetings or televisits in order to reduce the amount of background noise happening. Also, taking the time to speak up and speak slowly, as this articulation will enhance others’ understanding of you. Keep your video on to allow for visual and facial cues when you are speaking. Research has demonstrated that audio and video together is superior for understanding language than audio alone.
These tips and recommendations can be utilized beyond just your Monday through Friday work obligations. As we continue to live in these uncertain times, the human connection and socialization are ever needed. We find ourselves adapting by using these virtual platforms for family gatherings, school lessons, grandparents meeting their newborn grandchild for the first time, and enjoying virtual happy hours with your friends. See if these tips improve and make those times increasingly more enjoyable.