Updated mask guidelines that recognize the needs of people with hearing loss and other communications disorders are a step in the right direction, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

In its revised recommendations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “people who are deaf or hard of hearing — or those who care for or interact with a person who is hearing impaired — may be unable to wear cloth face coverings if they rely on lipreading to communicate.”

If a clear face covering is not available, the agency advises the use of written communication, closed captioning in digital formats, and decreased background noise.

Communication breakdowns can result in real harm, particularly in medical settings where clear communication between patients and healthcare providers is imperative, ASHA said in response to the CDC’s changes. The new guidelines “allow for modifications that can improve communication success for everyone — including those with communication disorders,” it added.

The group calls for “flexible communication” during the pandemic, to make sure medical needs and preferences are understood. This can include shared computer screens, voice-to-speech applications, personal sound amplifiers, or the use of plexiglass barriers, ASHA said.

In fact, adaptations and alternative communications methods may also help increase the chance that all parties can wear a mask, reducing the risk of viral transmission, according to the CDC.