By Sandra Fulton, VP Group Marketing Unitron & Hansaton
Published August 2021
The pandemic has had life-altering effects on regular human connections. With less physical contact and more virtual options to forge these necessary connections, the world has become increasingly digitized in how we engage with one another. This shift requires a lot of adaptation by everyone, including persons with hearing loss. With 5% of Canadians aged 15 years and over living with hearing disabilities1, and 23% of Canadians with hearing loss depending on lip reading for communication, social distancing and technology that does not accommodate those with hearing impairments creates a critical barrier to human connection.
Before the pandemic, persons with hearing loss could connect with others by picking up visual cues during communication, lip reading, or observing overall body language and how words are expressed. Since 90% of people with hearing loss can improve communication with hearing assistive technology2, hearing aids often help amplify surrounding sounds and speech, aiding in overall communication. Due to COVID-19, these vital aspects of communication are challenged.
Social distancing protocols, limited close contact and the obstruction of expressions and lip reading by face masks leave people with hearing loss struggling to effectively communicate with others3. What was supposed to be a health and safety measure for everyone has become a barrier to deciphering sounds and speech— a major part of our everyday lives.
For those who have hearing difficulties, the pandemic has exacerbated the issues they face. However, it can be argued that it has also made a greater part of Canada's population aware of how critical our hearing is for essential human connection.
Many years ago, when my father began experiencing hearing loss, he did not know there was something wrong. Neither did we as his children. His seeming inability to understand his grandchildren when they spoke to him put a strain on our relationship. It was not until he had his hearing tested and took home his hearing aids that we saw a huge improvement in his quality of life and ability to connect with his family. This helped me realize how much of a difference a highly adaptable hearing aid can make, with compatibility to be integrated with other devices and everyday life.
When I am out, I sometimes struggle to hear people speaking because of the face mask they wear. And I am sure other people experience the same. Struggling to hear another person even without any form of hearing loss helps us better appreciate and understand how difficult it must be to live with a hearing impairment. It makes us all value human connection even more.
As a VP with Unitron, my longtime experience within the hearing aid industry has proved that innovative hearing aids can make a drastic difference in the life of a person, including transformation within my own family.
I have realized that creating assistive technology is not enough on its own. Such technology, especially when aimed at supporting persons experiencing hearing difficulty, must be advanced enough to allow an individual to adjust to hearing speech through masks, over virtual meetings or simply connecting to the world around them, especially at a time like this.
It is evident that the hearing aid industry needs to rise up to the occasion, and develop more advanced technology that can withstand the ongoing changes in how society communicates. The best hearing aids must have the capability for the wearer to adjust their hearing device’s sound settings, even while wearing a mask, ensuring personal protective equipment is not a barrier to communication.
This Better Speech and Hearing Month4, the importance of human connection and the role that hearing plays in it has become even more apparent. This is an essential time to emphasize the importance of hearing tests, as a necessary part of regular health check-ups.
Hearing tests can be accessed without a referral and many pharmacies offer screening services. An early test and corresponding use of hearing aids, when recommended, makes a world of difference and improves overall quality of life. More than ever before, it is critical to use a device that isn't just solely devoted to amplification of sound and improved hearing, but also helps with connectivity to your day to day life. The bulk of this task lies on hearing aid manufacturers to ensure their technology and product development is addressing ongoing barriers to communication resulting from the pandemic.
So, how can the general public better support persons with hearing loss? First, “be curious” and ask questions on what it's like for that person and how best to help them in their communication. Being truly supportive does not always mean speaking louder. It may just mean making yourself more visible, providing other visual cues to help them, and showing genuine compassion while connecting with others.
While COVID-19 presents several challenges, it has meant various sectors have had to become innovative to meet the changing demands of the world. The continued need for innovation has become necessary for the hearing aid industry, especially as we continue to support everyone in fostering vital human connection within these times and beyond.
Sandra Fulton is vice president of group marketing for Unitron and Hansaton. Sandra has worked for Sonova for over 20 years, and has overall responsibility for product development and marketing globally for the Unitron and Hansaton brands. Sandra has held several leadership roles in the commercial side of the hearing instrument business, and as managing director she led a company growth of 40% through a strategy of both sales execution and mergers and acquisitions. Sandra is passionate about helping more people hear better by ensuring a quality and attractive product. She has a degree in human resources and executive general management, and is married with two children who live in Victoria, B.C. For enjoyment, she loves baking, traveling and time at the beach. She is a hands-on leader and values spending time meeting and working alongside people in the business and hopes to do this again soon.
To learn more about Unitron’s hearing solutions, please visit https://www.unitron.com/global/en_us/platforms/blu.html
Listen to a full interview on CBC Radio One, The Morning Edition - KW featuring Sandra Fulton and her father as they explore this topic together.