May usually brings a fun and familiar routine that might include Mother’s Day, graduations, Memorial Day gatherings. (I always smile when I think of Star Wars fans on May the Fourth.) For advocates like me, who are passionate about hearing health and improving communication, May brings a special opportunity as “Better Hearing and Speech” month.

But this May, nothing seems familiar. I still find myself reaching for a handshake, momentarily forgetting to keep my distance. Or, in trying to understand someone better by lip-reading, I look up … only to see a face covering. I think I’ll walk around the corner for a bagel, and then I remember the shop reduced its hours and isn’t open now. With so many changes to our day-to-day, our focus and priorities are constantly shifting. So, I’m glad that “Better Hearing and Speech” month reminds us to keep healthy hearing and communication high on our list — even in unusual circumstances.

“Better Hearing and Speech” month: a little history

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) established “Better Hearing and Speech” month in May of 1927. And, while our regular routines may have been disrupted, ASHA is honoring this important tradition. Every May, ASHA tries “to raise awareness about communication disorders and the role of ASHA members in providing life-altering treatment.” Indeed! Dedicated audiologists and caring speech therapists provided the tools and support I needed to communicate effectively. I am grateful for the talented professionals I have worked with through the years. (May the force be with them!)

2020 Better Hearing and Speech Banner
2020 Better Hearing and Speech Month Banner

How COVID-19 has impacted the hearing and speech community

The ASHA theme for May 2020 is “Communication at Work.” ASHA focused its outreach on the challenges posed by COVID-19. Specific to hearing health, they published three helpful articles we think are worth sharing.

A young girl with a hearing aid looks upward off camera.

Caring for Your Child’s Hearing Health at Home: Guidance for Maintaining Hearing Devices, provides a helpful link to NCHAM’s website (National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management). NCHAM includes a section for COVID-19 resources. Two links give step-by-step instructions for a daily listening check to monitor hearing aid function. Here’s a link to the video and the pdf instructions.

A woman with a hearing aid works at her laptop computer.

Next, Hearing Loss and Remote Work: Advice for Effective Communication During Virtual Meetings. This article addresses virtual meetings and how to make them more effective for those with and without hearing loss. The most important takeaways for me were the importance of introductions (hearing and visual checks) and making sure to record the meeting.

A young couple, including a man with a hearing aid, using their mobile devices.
COVID-19 and Hearing Loss in Adults: Strategies at Home offers a helpful pdf reviewing daily care and troubleshooting tips for those using hearing aids. It details listening and battery checks, cleaning and storage, and how to self-diagnose to fix troublesome feedback.

Communication complications and strategies while at work

For Better Hearing and Speech Month 2020, NIDCD (National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) teamed up with ASHA. Both advocate for the challenges people face at work, especially during COVID-19. With a large majority of the workforce using technology and communicating six feet apart while wearing masks, overcoming communication challenges is more important than ever.

Young volunteers in clear-windowed face masks

Our blog from earlier this month, Communicating Face to Face Mask, discussed how masks have impacted the lives of those who rely on lip reading. Not hearing well can have real implications at work. After all, following a supervisor’s instructions is key to employer satisfaction and getting the job done right the first time.

A young father attends an online meeting using headphones while entertaining two children.

Last month, we discussed noisy work environments. For some of us, that might even include our home offices. But work-related noise is a critical issue for road crews, roofing contractors and construction workers who haven’t stopped working during the pandemic. Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) disproportionately affect these workforce communities. Whether we work at home or on the road (literally!), healthy hearing must remain a top priority.

May the force be with you — and your hearing

As we wrap up May, I’ll leave you with the words of famed author Paulo Coelho, “Nothing in the world happens by chance.” Like good communication, safe hearing at work and at home is a matter of intention. The “force” we need is our own willingness to act. Our “chance” for success is greatly improved when we act with purpose.

So, take charge. Make changes to your work routines that will keep your ears safe. Help your children monitor and appropriately adjust their headphone volumes. And, if you’re experiencing any hearing loss, please find a good hearing health professional who can help. (We even have a guide for that.) And, do it sooner than later.

At Akoio, we take action to change the conversation from merely reacting to “hearing loss” to proactively addressing “hearing wellness.” We invite you to join us in the journey. Please like and share our Facebook page and share content that may help others. And we look forward to the future as we learn together to conquer life.

Bill Schiffmiller is the CEO and Founder of Akoio, a company dedicated to providing products and services tailored to the needs of people with hearing loss. A life-long hearing aid user and hearing wellness advocate, Bill was the former Accessibility Advocate for Apple, Inc., and received his Master of Professional Studies degree in Design Management at Pratt Institute.