How to create strong (virtual) connections during COVID-19

UAlberta panel provides tips and resources for overcoming barriers that can hinder communication between loved ones during the pandemic

Rob Curtis - 27 May 2020

As people explore new ways to connect with friends and family while social distancing, video chat has become increasingly popular. For those who have to navigate barriers such as hearing impairments, speech disorders or access to technology, these new communication tools can be especially challenging and may leave some people feeling isolated. 

A panel from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, which included Chair and Professor Andrea MacLeod, Professor Bill Hodgetts and Associate Professor Esther Kim, provided tips for connecting with loved ones virtually on the May 27 episode of Rehab Med Live

  1. Be creative and flexible! For example, if you are in a video chat with an older family member with a hearing impairment, consider speaking to them over the telephone while the video is running, or have a pad and a marker ready to write messages that can be held up to the camera.
  2. Recognize that children have to learn how to communicate and play together over these new mediums as well. Avoid periods where they’re restless or tired and try shorter video playdates with planned activities that help them engage visually.
  3. Consider the cognitive demands that video calling can place on us. Determining who is speaking and communicating without the visual cues that we’re used to (such as eye contact and body language) can be exhausting. Simple adjustments, like using a layout that automatically highlights the speaker or improving your lighting so that you can be more easily seen, can have a big impact.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the features of the software available to you—for example, many platforms have an automatic closed captioning feature.
  5. Choose a solution that meets your needs. If you’re having a one-on-one conversation, platforms designed for large meetings might be less suitable. Consider something simpler like a phone call.

 “It’s a learning process, and we’re all learning together, which is a benefit,” says MacLeod.

 To watch the full recorded presentation, click here.

Rehab Med Live is a series of live-streamed presentations designed to connect the public with the expertise of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine’s faculty, staff and alumni. To register or to view past episodes, visit