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‘Up your eyebrow game’: UBC expert gives tips for better communication while wearing a face mask

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WATCH: With British Columbians now wearing facemasks while in public spaces, a UBC expert in speech and communication has some tips to make sure the message still gets across – Mar 4, 2021

With masks mandatory in public indoor spaces in B.C. amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, having our faces covered can make communication with others tricky.

Lorienne Jenstad, associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, says the added challenge of communicating with a mask on can prove to be a barrier to the kind of small social interactions that occur in places like grocery stores.

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“If that’s difficult and challenging, we may not have effort left over for interaction — things like ‘How’s your day going? — and that’s the part that I think we really need right now,” she said.

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Jenstad said non-verbal communication is key and now is the time to “up your eyebrow game.”

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“Move your eyes. Move your eyebrows,” she said. “I’m lucky I can move one eyebrow at a time so I can indicate I’m asking a question.”

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Jenstad also recommends non-verbal cues such as nodding and hand gestures.

If you smile, she says, make it a big smile so the sides of your eyes will crinkle.

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And when you speak, try to slow down enough to be understood, she says.

Communication can be particularly challenging for people who are deaf and hard of hearing as masks make lip-reading all but impossible.

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Read more: With coronavirus variants spreading, are masks needed outdoors?

Vancouver’s Wavefront Centre For Communication Accessibility has developed a clear mask that retails for around $30. The company has sold out of the masks, but say a new, improved version is on the way.

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“It just warms my heart that people are paying attention to this, because being deaf and hard of hearing myself… I’ve gone through lots of barriers trying to listen,” WaveFront’s Yat Li said.

“So I just miss lip-reading and facial expressions and hopefully more people will adopt this.”

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