My Words to a Rockstar: When Face Masks and Hearing Loss Don’t Mix

(VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

The Foo Fighters is possibly the greatest rock band since The Rolling Stones and The Beatles (at least Lipreading Mom thinks so). I am currently reading through band leader Dave Grohl’s memoir, The Storyteller, and one thing I can tell you about Dave’s life is this: It’s been a LOUD ride. Being at the top of his music game for 25 years hasn’t made this rockstar immune from the fun stuff that Lipreading Mom daily lives with: hearing loss and tinnitus. During a recent interview with Howard Stern, Dave shares about his hearing issues and constant ear ringing, including how he has been reading lips for two decades. That changed during the Covid era and plethora of face masks.

“If you were sitting right next to me at dinner, I wouldn’t understand a f— word you were saying to me, the whole f— time. In a crowded restaurant, that’s the worst,” Dave says during the interview. “That’s the worst thing about this pandemic s—: people wearing masks. I’ve been reading lips for like 20 years. When someone comes up and [mutters through a mask], I’m like, ‘I’m a rock musician. I can’t hear what you’re saying!’”

Screenshot of Dave Grohl’s interview with Howard Stern

Watch the interview clip on UltimateClassicRock.com.

Hey Dave,

As one of your many fans, let me say thank you for shedding light about your hearing, reading lips, and that oh-so-annoying tinnitus. At least 30 million Americans who live with hearing loss can relate to your frustrations with all the masked faces during the pandemic. For two years, I have also dealt with muffled conversations and trying to lip-read eyes, brows, and forehead wrinkles instead of a speaker’s lips. It is insane that even now, 31 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, we are living with inaccessibility.

Are face masks here to stay? In the short-term, yes. Thankfully, I don’t think we will be hiding half our faces forever. Even better to know that there is a more accessible mask option for all those conversations with bandmate friends, family, store cashiers, restaurant servers, medical providers, strangers on an airplane, and the like.

A Suggestion or Two

I recommend the use of clear face masks. You can get snazzy cloth and vinyl masks such as the one I’m wearing here, or check out the disposable, FDA-approved Safe ‘N Clear surgical-grade masks.

Cheesy smile aside, the clear mask makes for easier lip-reading conversations. Cooler yet, the lady who made this mask donated half of all profits to organizations benefitting the Deaf and hard of hearing. Rock on!

Another option is adding a speech-to-text app to your smart phone. I couple I have tried are Otter.ai and AVA. Both translate the voices of masked people into easy-to-read text. Here’s the kicker: they rely on a combination of professional transcription (the best) and AI-based captioning (not the best). But you might have some fun reading the captioning mistakes. I once had a great conversation with my husband that ended with what was supposed to be the words “Love you.” My phone app thought he was talking about “YouTube”.

Maybe these suggestions will help. Maybe you won’t ever read this letter, but perhaps one of the dozen or so loyal LipreadingMom.com readers will get something out of it.

Keep rocking,

Lipreading Mom

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7 thoughts on “My Words to a Rockstar: When Face Masks and Hearing Loss Don’t Mix

  1. Thank you Shanna for sharing our communication challenges during this pandemic.It was interesting to discover that Dave has the same challenges that we face. Thank you for sharing, continue to inspire and drive awareness. I am so proud of you and honored to share this journey through life with you.

  2. The current world would be much easier to say the least if clear masks were the normalized standard. But they are not. Many feel clear masks don’t offer the proper protection (which is entirely possible) and won’t use them. Others feel the plastic is uncomfortable (I’ve used a clear mask and found the plastic uncomfortable and even fogging). Me wearing a clear mask doesn’t help me. Others need to wear it to help me. The fact is, the importance of clear masks is not normalized and manufacturers aren’t finding ways to make these masks properly protective, comfortable and usable. Hospitals, doctors offices MUST figure this out especially.

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