It’s happened to everyone over the past year: you ask a question or make a comment, and the person on the receiving end says - “huh?”
It’s not because your question wasn’t clear or you need to get their attention. It’s because during the COVID-19 pandemic you’re wearing a mask, and it presents a whole new layer of communication barriers. Covering the face makes it much more difficult to hear, see a person’s mouth move, and read their facial expressions. So, how dangerous are masks to people’s ability to communicate?
Difficult for the hearing impaired
One group that’s not often considered when it comes to a face mask’s hindrance to communication are those who are hard of hearing. There are around 466 million people who have hearing loss across the world. People who hear traditionally have a difficult time understanding one another while wearing a mask, so those struggling with hearing loss are put even more at odds.
Masks, of course, restrict the ability for people to read lips, which was heavily relied on by the deaf and hard of hearing. When lip reading is prevented, if the individual still has some ability to hear, straining to listen can put stress on them that weren’t previously experiencing. The individual might need to request to move to a space with less noise, which might not always be possible. They also might need to ask whoever is speaking to go at a slower space, and speak at a higher volume.
Those who need to wear hearing aids are also affected by wearing masks due to the physical act of taking the mask on and off. The loops of a face mask can tug on hearing aids, and make wearing them much more of a challenge.
Hard to express emotion
Face masks have not only posed a huge communication issue to people who are hearing impaired, they also hinder interpersonal communication in general.
Different facial expressions each involve small changes in facial appearance, which are all described in the Facial Action Coding System. This system itemizes facial movements, dividing them into sections and naming various movements, such as “the nose wrinkle,” “the lip tightener,” “the jaw drop,” and others.
In particular, the lower and middle face are considered to be influential zones when it comes to emotional recognition. By studying children, it was recorded that looking at the lower face can help determine whether a person is angry, surprised, scared, or disgusted. By obstructing this, a wide range of emotions are unable to be recognized as easily - or at all.
Moreover, positive emotions like happiness or simply seeing smiles can help ease anxiety. Especially in doctor patient relationships, this makes it much more difficult to put someone at ease and allow them to recognize that they’re in a safe situation. Overall, with hindered social interactions and decreased ability to express emotions, masks are increasing depression and anxiety because of this unfortunate reality.
Tough for children to read faces
As discussed, looking at a person’s face is a strong stimulus for children in their early stages of development. Children extract information from the emotion that is playing across a person’s face, and develop the ability to process the correct feedback to those emotions.
However, when a hat was added to a person’s face, the ability to correctly identity emotions was strongly impeded. This showed that studying facial emotions was hugely important in facial recognition proficiency, but adding a superfluous addition to the face was extremely disruptive in this development. And in this case, the obstruction in the study was only a hat - a mask obstructs the entire bottom half of the face.
If people need to repeat themselves or a child is having a hard time understanding someone, it can also be frustrating to the child in a way that's difficult for them to understand. Over time, without using a transparent mask or finding a way to allow children to communicate normally, this could be very dangerous to the overall ability to communicate.
A clear solution to the communication problem
While COVID-19 is here, masks will be here also. So if all these barriers to communication exist from wearing a mask, how do we fix it? Using a clear mask like Jelli is a way around the problem. By using a transparent mask, some of the barriers that the hearing impaired face are immediately removed, and a sense of normalcy is restored. Being able to see someone’s lips in order to read them is a huge reason to adopt clear masks.
You can see smiles again when you use a clear face mask, and bring back all the emotions that people are able to analyze on your face. A clear mask can make all the difference for those times that you need to communicate and keep others safe.