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Maintaining social life during the pandemic with hearing loss

socializing with hearing loss
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, most people have found ways to adapt to the new situation. Now that social distance is necessary, socializing with hearing loss comes with different barriers and challenges.

Even with hearing devices, conversations through a phone or computer can be challenging. Seeing the other person through video chat can help, but this doesn’t fix the issue completely. Lipreading can be more difficult over video than in person, and these interactions often result in listening fatigue.

As the desire to connect with my loved ones grows, so do my worries about experiencing miscommunications. However, social connection doesn’t have to be strictly voice and video calls. I’ve found a few alternatives along the way that have made socializing easier and even more fun than just video calling.

Alternative methods to socializing with hearing loss

Handwriting, postcards, and pen-pals

Don’t underestimate the art of handwriting! Since the pandemic started, I’ve been keeping up with some friends and family through mail. Sending letters can be a fun way to express your creative skills. A handwritten letter is also meaningful to the recipient. Arranging to be pen-pals with a friend can create a fun outlet for connection while avoiding listening fatigue or misunderstandings. 

Social movie-watching apps

Did you know you can have movie night with your friends without having to leave home? Some apps allow you and your friends to stream movies or TV shows together. You can easily enable closed captions on these videos and watch them without struggling to understand. Most of these apps even have a built-in chat function, allowing a user to pause the movie and type messages to their friends. They can even support large groups of up to 50 people. You can try Netflix Party (Chrome), Rave (iOS), and Prime Video Watch Party (Amazon).

Read more: 5 deaf actors to watch on Netflix right now

Sharing homemade art or completing craft kits.

A meaningful addition to socializing with hearing loss may be to send letters or share art and crafts. This can include scrapbooking, handmade art, and even pre-made craft kits. These kits include everything you need for projects such as painting, embroidery, calligraphy, and even candle-making! You find them in online stores such as Amazon or Etsy and ship them straight to your door.  Purchasing one for yourself and sending one to a friend can create a fun and meaningful experience even at a distance. You can choose to video call and complete the kit together, or just send pictures and discuss it through texting.

Gaming

There are hundreds of games online that can accommodate all skill levels and be accessible to people with hearing loss. Many of these allow you to play with a friend from anywhere in the world!

One of my favorite sites (and a favorite of my local Deaf Club) is Board Game Arena. After registering, you can connect with friends and play classic board games, along with some unique games. Console gaming is also an option. Playing video games through a Playstation or Nintendo Switch with friends can be fun and accessible. Many of these include a voice chat feature, but playing with friends directly through the platform is just as fun.

Read more: Gamers find ways to make competitive gaming accessible

Using VRS for video calls

Lastly, for those of us who use sign language, VRS (video relay service) can be an excellent alternative to traditional video calling. One VRS company, Sorenson, has designed an application called Wavello. This app enables you to video chat with a hearing person while also seeing a sign language interpreter on screen. The service is easy to set up for those currently using Sorenson, and the application process is free for new users.

Tips to make social phone or video calls easier

Of course, there may be times when a video or phone call is inevitable, or when other communication forms aren’t available or ideal. In this case, here are some ways to make the experience easier.

Use a captioning app such as Otter.ai or Live Transcribe

Live captioning apps use speech recognition and artificial intelligence to convert speech to text in real-time. These can be set up on another device or in another window on the same device. Many even have the option to save transcripts or play the audio back later in case you miss something important.

Use your FM system

If you have a remote microphone, FM system, or Bluetooth capabilities on your hearing device, these can be set up to stream audio directly to your hearing aid or cochlear implant. Using these can eliminate background noise, and allow you to have better control of volume. Contact your audiologist about what you can use for phone and video call streaming.

Make sure you can see the caller’s face

I always prefer video calls over phone calls for this reason. Being able to see facial expressions and mouth movements helps to understand conversation. These visual cues create a much better sense of connection than just hearing a voice over the phone.

Good internet connection and lighting

This is incredibly important for video calls. Having good lighting allows you to see facial expressions clearly to increase your understanding. Similarly, having a strong internet connection also allows for better sound quality. Muffled or static sound from a poor internet connection can make listening much harder.

Read more: Guide to group video calling apps for hearing loss

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Author Details
Isabella is a young adult with a passion for Deaf community advocacy, scientific research, and education. She has Moderately-Severe bilateral hearing loss, and uses two Phonak Sky Marvel hearing aids and a Roger FM system. Isabella is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas, a career inspired by her interest in hearing technology. Proudly raised in Mexico and currently living in Austin, United States, she communicates through Spanish, English, and American Sign Language. You can keep up with Isabella through her Instagram blog, @DeafLoud, where she documents her experiences with Deafness and Autism.
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Isabella is a young adult with a passion for Deaf community advocacy, scientific research, and education. She has Moderately-Severe bilateral hearing loss, and uses two Phonak Sky Marvel hearing aids and a Roger FM system. Isabella is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas, a career inspired by her interest in hearing technology. Proudly raised in Mexico and currently living in Austin, United States, she communicates through Spanish, English, and American Sign Language. You can keep up with Isabella through her Instagram blog, @DeafLoud, where she documents her experiences with Deafness and Autism.
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