MILLIONS of deaf people could face ‘months of misery’ unless transparent face masks are made widely available, some of the country’s major deaf and disability organisations have warned.
Nine organisations, led by the National Deaf Children’s Society, have written to Public Health England and NHS England urging them to work together quickly to commission transparent face masks.
Without them, the charities say deaf people face a world where they can’t understand what’s being said to them, putting them at an even higher risk of isolation and loneliness at a critical time.
There are currently around nine million people in England who are deaf or live with a hearing loss and almost all of them rely on seeing someone’s face clearly, as it helps with lip-reading and reading facial expressions.
In the letter, the charities warn that this will become impossible if the general public now starts to wear standard face masks or coverings. If transparent masks were also available, however, they say it would make a ‘monumental difference’ to deaf people across nation.
The coalition, which includes the National Deaf Children’s Society, Action on Hearing Loss, Royal Association for Deaf people, Action Deafness, British Deaf Association, Sign Health, British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, Sense and the UK Council on Deafness, also asks for any future Government guidance on the topic to include advice on speaking to deaf or deafblind people whilst wearing face masks or coverings.
The National Deaf Children’s Society has provided five tips for the public when they speak to a deaf person whilst wearing a face mask, urging everyone to take them on board:
1. Write it down
If speech isn’t working, write it down or use a text message.
2. Use an app
There are mobile apps that can translate speech into text – why not give one a try?
3. Keep it clear
If you can, use a face mask with a clear panel or a clear face visor so your face is visible.
4. Find a quiet place
This will make it easier to hear, especially if technology is used to support hearing.
5. Use video calls
If you don’t need to meet face-to-face, a video call with captions or British Sign Language interpretation may work just as well and you won’t need a mask.
Susan Daniels, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:
“This is an extremely challenging time for everyone and we’re relying on each other’s support, understanding and patience to get through it. Deaf people are no exception and if face masks or coverings become widespread, they could experience months of misery as they struggle to understand what is said to them.
“This could be even harder for children, who may not have the confidence to keep asking for things to be repeated and often find it easier to just pretend they understand.
“Transparent face masks would make a monumental difference to deaf people’s lives, but we’d also ask everyone to take these simple deaf awareness tips on board. They won’t make much difference to your life, but they will have a massive effect on ours.”
Steph Halder, President of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, said:
“Deaf children rely on lip patterns to support their communication and also need to see peoples’ faces for emotional understanding. The use of face masks could have a negative impact on assessments and verification of hearing aids and auditory implants.
“Deaf children do not hear well over distance and may already be struggling with social distancing measures. Clear face masks would remove some of the barriers and ensure that deaf children are not put at a disadvantage.”
Linda Richards, Chair of the British Deaf Association, said:
“Don’t mask the message. Use of clear face masks and visors/shields with Deaf people is reassuring, reduces the risk of misunderstandings, and gives us the chance – indeed, the right – to be as fully informed and involved in our treatment as is possible. Don’t mask the message with an unnecessary barrier. Be clear. Go clear.”
Craig Crowley, Chief Executive of Action Deafness, said:
“We believe this clear face mask is urgently needed and will make a huge difference to patients being able to access their communication needs, especially in this serious COVID-19 pandemic period.”