In the hospital, COVID-19 creates unique challenges for those with hearing loss. COVID-19 patients are separated from other other patients into “respiratory isolation.” This means that masks and noisy air purifiers are widely used. Masks that muffle the voice and prevent lipreading. Unlike other medical settings, masks will not be lowered so that you can lipread. Masks are being rationed, so doctors and nurses are limited when they can enter a room. This disrupts normal methods of using communication strategies such as video remote interpreting and even personal speech recognition apps.
Normally, hospitals are able to provide accommodations. However, some are overwhelmed and their ability to provide accommodations may be limited.
This guide is meant to provide the information that most people need to know. For more in depth needs, consult the guidelines produced by Dr. Ruffin and other deaf and hard of hearing leaders. These guidelines have been adapted for people who primarily use oral and spoken language and for those who communicate in sign language. The NAD has also released guidelines for hospital personnel. You may also see our recorded webinars for oral and spoken language or sign language users.
Clear masks are useful in any situation where a regular surgical mask or a homemade mask is used. It is not appropriate for use in the hospital COVID-19 setting. They are a reasonable accommodation for hearing loss.
Clear masks do not have the same level of filtration that N95 masks provide. Thus, they do not protect healthcare workers from catching COVID-19. The only clear mask solution that we have used and recommend is the Communicator Mask from SafeNclear (we have no financial connection). Other commercial solutions such as The Clear Mask is currently on backorder and we have not evaluated its product.
Know your communication rights in the hospital.
You have the right to communication access whether you speak or hear. Options can include:
Three steps to being prepared for a COVID-19 hospital admission. Keep in mind that these may be used for any hospital admission.
Consider printing these useful signs to place in your hospital room. They work well on the door and above the head of your bed to remind people that you have hearing loss. See if your hospital has assistive technology or a hospital kit for those with hearing loss.
Download these placards so hospital staff can operate your cochlear implants and hearing aids.
Use a personal whiteboard or a boogie board.
Apps that provide captions can be classified into two categories:
Make sure that your healthcare providers and advocates know your login and passwords.
The speaker is in the same room as you, and you hare having difficulty hearing because of distance or a mask.
Communicating when the speaker is outside the room. Treat this as a phone call.
Please see the NAD resources for a list of video remote interpreting and text-enlargement apps.
Ask to speak with the nursing supervisor for the hospital or ask for an ethics consult. You can also contact ConsumerGroups@DHHCAN.org for help.
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