UZ Leuven-button for the hearing-impaired eases communication with face masks

11 May 2020

As the corona measures are being eased, everyone has to wear a face mask in the hospital and in various public places. This is a problem for the hearing-impaired who often rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to understand their conversational partner. UZ Leuven has developed a button indicating you’re hearing-impaired so that others can take this into consideration.

‘Clearly please, I'm hearing-impaired’. By wearing a button with this message, people with a loss of hearing can indicate to their care providers and other conversation partners that they have to express themselves clearly, especially when wearing a mouth mask. Everyone with a slight or severe loss of hearing coming to UZ Leuven can pick up such a button from the Gasthuisberg campus reception.

People with a latent hearing loss, which you would normally not notice, can now experience difficulties when your mouth and a large part of your face are covered by a mask.
prof. dr. Nicolas Verhaert

Professor Nicolas Verhaert, otolaryngologist and ear surgeon at UZ Leuven: “It is important that we don’t forget the group of the hearing-impared in these special situation. People with a latent loss of hearing, which you would not normally notice, can now experience difficulties when your mouth and a large part of your face are covered by a mask. With this button we want to provide an accessible aid to facilitate communication, both in the hospital and in public life. And we'd like to do this in a playful, non-stigmatising way.”

Volume, timbre and gestures

In order to make yourself understood for a hearing-impaired person with a face mask, it is especially important to speak slowly and clearly. In addition you can think about your timbre to get a message across. Professor Verhaert: “From our childhood onwards we learn how to deduct information from a person's timbre. For example, when someone says something in an angry way, we know that that person is angry without knowing what is being said. It also helps to support your message visually with e.g. daily gestures, and by avoiding background noise as much as possible.”

The last couple of weeks, the department for workwear in UZ Leuven has also been working on a face mask with a plastic screen for everyone dealing with hearing-impaired people: from speech therapists to ear surgeons and care workers on geriatric wards. The transparent mask makes lip-reading possible. At the moment, we are testing which type of plastic works best to minimise condensation of the plastic screen.

Prof. dr. Verhaert and speech therapist Ellen Boon show off the 'Clearly please'-button for the hearing-impaired and the transparent face mask they're working on together with the department for workwear. 

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Last edit: 11 May 2020