May 30, 2020

"Masks cover critical cues that those who are HoH rely on to distinguish speech and expressions of the speaker."

"Today we refer to the holistic process of seeing facial expressions and lip reading to communicate as speech reading," said an audiologist quoted in "Coronavirus masks pose challenges for those hard of hearing."
Only 30% of sounds in English are visible on the lips, so for people who are HoH, the capacity to see the speaker’s face is important in distinguishing between words like “beer” and “cheer.” The speaker’s face also communicates mood and intent. Is the person mad? Happy? It all makes a difference in interpreting speech.

In a study about medical masks degrading speech reception published in the April issue of the journal Hearing Review, researchers found each type of medical mask essentially functioned as an acoustic filter for speech. “The speech quality degradation, in combination with room noise/reverberation and the absence of visual cues, renders speech close to unintelligible for many patients with hearing loss.”
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the problem deaf people have understanding masked speakers. It's important to see the larger problem affecting the hard of hearing. And I think even for those of us who are not hard of hearing, it is more difficult to hear and understand people who are wearing masks.

We should be careful about overextending the use of masks. I've seen some people advocating masks on the mere theory that it might help and with little attention to how it might hurt. I myself am avoiding doing anything that requires a mask, and I admit to an aversion to the things, but I'm trying to be fact-based and scientific.


I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I want two things:

1. A recent piece of scholarship regarding asymptomatic transmission; all I see are the same assertions without evidence repeated endlessly

2. An articulation of what the conditions are for when we can stop with the masks.

gilbar said...

"Coronavirus masks pose challenges for those hard of hearing."

"Coronavirus masks pose challenges for literally EVERYONE, and ANYONE; they are Useless for either protection, OR prevention... Their ONLY use is to signal Submission to the will of of the State."

Unknown said...

I think I mentioned on the previous one that based on good research done by communications engineers decades ago from the phone-companies, we have some reasonably good means of predicting (from levels of background-noise, sound-interference, and distortion) how good speech intelligibility of a phone, intercom, or sound system will be - or even just speech between people in noisy rooms.

When these numerical prediction indexes run on say a 1-100 scale, the presence of synchronized picture where the listener can clearly see the lips of the speaker is worth well over 10 points improvement.

So it is not just hard of hearing - seeing lips makes understanding of speech easier/better for everyone.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

No shit? Who knew?
And yet the average 12 year-old would quickly figure out how to communicate in any given situation. A truly heroic 12 year-old might even take the mask off while communicating.
I wonder if Althouse is making a point about the absurdity of Mask Theater here.

Lurker21 said...

Watching the Minnesota press conference: It looks like the sign language interpreter is mocking the speakers. Maybe she's just enthusiastic about her job or her moment in the spotlight and wants to ham it up.

TRISTRAM said...

So, Botox does violate ADA for HoH?

Jersey Fled said...

I'm seeing more and more people covering their mouths with masks but not their noses. I think it's becoming a thing.

I don't get it.

Lurker21 said...


High on hope?

madAsHell said...

HoH. Acronyms. They create a shortcut, but also a division.

You don't know how to elaborate the acronym?? I do. You must not be with the kewl kids.

I did enjoy the AWFUL acronym that was posted the other day.

Oso Negro said...

I have worn a bandanna four times in flights then last two weeks because United required it. On the flight from Tulsa to Houston yesterday, the first class section removed them in flight. Many of have had enough.

Hey Skipper said...


So it is not just hard of hearing - seeing lips makes understanding of speech easier/better for everyone.

Personal experience: I'm American, but lived in England for seven years. Long enough to pretty much suss all the myriad dialects that somehow persist on that not particularly big island.

Except for Liverpudlians. In person, I could always understand. Over the phone, I was an endless font of "huh?", "wot?" ...

TRISTRAM said...

FWIW, HoH is Hard of Hearing. And I understand the problem. I have high end hearing loss (USAF flightline, hearing protection isn’t 100%). If I can’t see who is talking, my comprehension drops dramatically. Maybe that is why I hate public figures like Whitmer and professional talking heads whose faces don’t move. They seem like lizard people to me, imitating humans, with no Understanding of us.

Sebastian said...

"We should be careful about overextending the use of masks"

Fine. I appreciate the attitude.

As long as you see that the point of progressivism is not to "be careful" but to make you care about what you are supposed to care about.

Birkel said...

Also, masks are not useful to prevent healthy people or asymptomatic people from spreading virus or getting sick.


Danno said...

Haven't been converted into a masked man yet, Kemosabe.

Danno said...

Pants said...". An articulation of what the conditions are for when we can stop with the masks."

Many Asian people in certain areas are/were still wearing masks that dated back to the SARs outbreak in 2002-2003.

DimWhit said...

Masks severely restrict that part of the communication spectrum allocated to face-to-face interaction.... Hard on everybody, not just HoH.

Char Char Binks said...

This is the kind of problem that keeps NPR-listening suburban middle-aged women awake at night. That and hot flashes.

RigelDog said...

Like OGH, I try and base as many decisions as possible on the best facts and science available. As to masks, I think this data point is key: in an article I read that calculated how much viral material would be stopped by an individual mask, they came up with 95% and change. But when both parties in the area are wearing a mask, the statistics show the protection improves---but only a bit more protection, or 97% and change.
Doesn't that mean that all the people who are freaking out about others not wearing masks should just chill and be happy with the 95% protection they achieve by wearing their own mask?
Now imagine people who are outdoors (in unlimited volume air plus wind plus sunshine plus humidity), wearing their own masks, but still being terrified and outraged by the unmasked folks they pass by.

cyrus83 said...

The current theory of masks is that they might prevent an asymptomatic person from spreading disease since such a person can't know if they're infected or not. The problem is this is a criteria that never has an expiration - any person can be infected at any time with a communicable disease for which they show no symptoms. In other words, purely basing this on the risk that asymptomatic people may infect others, there is never a reason to end this policy.

As we have already seen from the airport security theater that's been with us ever since 9/11 with little change in practice, mask security theater has a decent chance of becoming ossified public policy long after the threat has passed the longer it stays in place especially if most people follow it.

But the idea that masks have only upside and no downside has no basis in either scientific literature or in the concrete actions of the so-called experts. If it did, the experts would have been wearing masks in public and advocating we all do the same long before now.

Mask policy really isn't sensible without a criterion for when it goes away. The longer it remains in place without one, the more people are going to flout it and the less responsive they will be the next time around when such a policy may really be needed. Fewer and fewer people are wearing them outside now and I suspect most people's limits will be reached when the heat and humidity hit in full force in a few weeks.

The other thing that bears mentioning is that the decentralized response to this, where every state is setting their own policies, really reflects how little science is behind the political response. Every state is following somewhat different rules, timetables, and restrictions, which brings up the question of just how they're determining policy, because if they were scientifically-based, data-driven responses, they should look pretty much the same, only differing in time. To use just one example, some areas apparently think churches can be at 50% capacity right now, some 25%, some just 50 people max, others won't let them open. Or to use Pennsylvania and New York, Pennsylvania has a clearly-defined 3-stage color-coded process by county, while New York is using 4 phases by region and didn't even clarify phase 2 rules until the day it began.