The Challenge To Hear During The Pandemic

Olga by her portrait by Riana Moller

Olga Katchan of Australia shared an anecdote on trying to hear when the speaker is wearing a mask.  (Photo courtesy of O. Katchan family collection)

April 26, 2020.  After a recent posting about life during the pandemic while having hearing loss (See, retired psychologist Olga Katchan of Australia, who has hearing loss, shared a story of the challenge she faced to communicate with someone who wore a mask: “I read your account with great interest and remembered one episode which reinforced your comments about problems with masks. I was having my nails done and my Vietnamese esthetician was making the most of having a psychologist client to listen to her problems. Alas, she was wearing a mask and I could not hear anything. However, having heard it once before when she had no mask, I kept smiling and nodding. However she then asked a question and I had to ask her to repeat it minus mask. She was stunned, ‘you mean you have been nodding to my problems without hearing a thing?’ I assured her that I knew what she was trying to tell me and gave her a summary of it. She was amazed. I said ‘what was the question?’ She said her question was ‘What is the most important thing in your life?’ I answered, ‘The happiness of our loved ones.’  She asked me to excuse her and before I could make my way to the reception desk to pay, she was back with a bunch of tulips for me.

Olga’s anecdote is a reminder to those who wear a mask in their work environment to  check whether your client can understand you.  Please consider using a clear-window mask to make it easier for people to see your lips and use speech reading techniques to follow what you are saying.


And in response to the challenge of trying to hear people behind a plexiglass barrier, Bill Droogendyk of Better Hearing Solutions wrote to let me know about a new Speech Transfer System kit available for ‘sneeze barriers’.  I asked him how this new product differed from the hearing loop installed at the counter at Charlottetown’s town hall.  “The amplifier is identical to what’s at the financial counter at city hall. The speakers, microphones and loop are different but still perform the same functions.” I then asked if it was a plug and play device.  Bill’s response: “While it’s almost plug and play, loop location and volume levels do need to be verified/adjusted by a certified hearing loop professional for each application.”  Luckily, we have two qualified and friendly certified hearing loop installers here on the Island who are willing to help any business or service that is interested in providing a better experience for clients with hearing loss.  Let’s Loop PEI!

The speech transfer system kit for plexiglass barriers.  (Diagrams from Contacta courtesy of Better Hearing Solutions.)

Thank you to Olga Katchan and Bill Droogendyk for contributing to the important topic of hearing challenges. Do you have a tip on hearing challenges during the pandemic to share?  Send an email to, comment on this blog, or send a tweet to @HearPEI. Stay safe!

© Daria Valkenburg

6 thoughts on “The Challenge To Hear During The Pandemic

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