As school districts nationwide grapple with re-entry concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most basic needs of some of our most vulnerable children may be overlooked. One such population is children with hearing loss.


While some attend schools for the deaf and other specialized settings, increasing numbers of children with hearing loss attend their local schools. And since hearing loss is a low-incidence disability, re-opening procedures may not take into account the specific needs of these children. Two of the most likely safety protocols teachers can anticipate include social distancing and the wearing of masks or face coverings. While helpful to prevent viral spread, both of these protocols will cause difficulties for young deaf and hard of hearing children in a classroom.


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Samantha Akkineni

Masks create a barrier between a speaker’s voice and the listener’s ear. This will not only reduce the volume of speech but can also reduce the clarity, making it more difficult for all students not just those who are hard of hearing to understand the teacher and their peers. Masks also make speechreading impossible, which is an essential communication strategy for many people with hearing loss.


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Social distancing is another factor to consider. It can help control viral spread, but it also reduces the volume of speech. In fact, every time the distance between a speaker and listener is doubled, the sound intensity drops by about 25 percent. Typically, teachers use an FM system a microphone worn that transmits a direct sound signal to a receiver worn by a child to help deliver sounds right to their hearing aid or cochlear implant. But speaking into a microphone with a face covering could result in friction between the two surfaces, which could create sound interference.

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