Communication Roadblock: Pandemics, Face Masks and Reading Lips

I had an unusual experience walking into my long-term doctor’s office during the Covid-19 pandemic ordeal. 

Everyone was wearing a face mask preparing for the challenges. As some of you know, I am moderately to severely hard of hearing, and I read lips. I also have a speech impairment. 

Walking into the front office and approaching the front desk I noticed there was no sign-in sheet. I figured the best way to let them know who I am was to write my name on my phone and show it to them. As I was typing it, my doctor’s nurse happened to walk into the room and see me. She told the front desk, “That is Keith Bonchek, he cannot hear.” I want to explain why I was able to hear her — I can hear some tones more easily, and her tone was within this range – LOW and LOUD. I could also see her facial expression (just the top half though).  

I was seated, and a few minutes later I was called into the exam room. The nurse knew that I was deaf, she wrote a few things down, and removed her mask a little bit to talk to me as needed. Not too long after that, my doctor walked in, and we both looked each other in the eye. I wasn’t thinking about the mask, but he instantly turned around and walked out of the room. I was starting to wonder if I smelled bad or something! LOL!

In less than 3 minutes, he came back with a clear shield over his face. OMG. I wagged my tail like a dog, I was such a happy camper! I had forgotten to email them ahead of time to ask if they could wear a clear mask, but the doctor was still able to make that accommodation quickly. I’m sure he doesn’t not want to keep repeating himself when he has another patient to see after me. Good communication can save time. 

That, to me, is a small thing that makes such a big impact.

Knowing that my doctor wants to communicate with me effectively really means a lot to me and shows that he cares.

This is one doctor who doesn’t need to attend my training! (Maybe the front office, but not him). Passing A+ certificate for him!

As a medical professional, when you take the time to make small accommodations for your patients with disabilities, you are making a huge impact and showing that you are considering their needs. It shows your patients that you want to communicate with them effectively and make sure you are giving them the best care possible. 

If you’re a patient, do you have a similar success story? How about a time where you had an unresolved communication challenge? Leave your story in the comments. I’m all ears!

If you would like more information on how to book Accessibility Training visit abilitytogether.org.

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A female doctor holds out a face mask, as if she's about to place it over your face, creating a communication barrier for anyone who relies on lip reading.

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