Why we need face masks with visible panels for our Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
As England was delivered with the mandatory requirement to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets, I can only imagine people of the deaf community tried to hopelessly swallow the lump that formed in their throat.
Since COVID-19, the Deaf and Hard of hearing community have been fighting for their voices to be heard. Yet ironically, it’s falling upon ‘deaf ears’, those with the privilege and ability to hear are choosing to ignore the voices desperate to be not heard, but listened to.
It may be hard for a hearing person to fully comprehend just how incredibly exhausting it is to be deaf, living in a hearing led society…
Coping with hearing loss is much like a jigsaw puzzle, each word that’s spoken our brains are tirelessly finding the pieces of the jigsaw to put together, yet to always discover one piece of the jigsaw is missing. We depend on lip reading, processing the sound of speech and reading your gestures of facial expressions and body language.
Have you ever tried to imagine what it’s like to listen with your eyes? Have you ever imagined what it’s like for your hands to be the illustrators of your life? The fatigue that Deaf and Hard of hearing people experience in day to day life, simply from concentration is draining.
Being a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) community, the requirement to wear masks or face coverings is an enormous barrier to communication and is leaving a large part of our population isolated.
Over the last few months, having being required to have investigations in hospitals not only for myself but for my daughter too, I have been affected first hand by the struggles created by COVID19. Facial coverings are clearly a priority for both those in medical fields and patients. However, accessibility and the ability to understand information is crucial, where a PPE face mask covers the entire lower face, I cannot lip read, nor can I read the expression of the person‘s face, which are both vital for a HOH person to support their hearing and to understand what is being communicated. Like most deaf or HOH people I cannot solely rely on hearing aids to communicate. Although the PPE visors are see through, the sound quality is affected as in normal speech it does not travel through the mask and the sound is extremely muffled. These two items worn together leaves the deaf community feeling extremely separated, overwhelmed and frustrated.
Another factor for the public and retailers to consider when using face coverings, is if a person also presents with deafness, that their speech can be muffled and unclear so naturally as a sales assistant wearing standard PPE, this will create a communication block and would be failing to meet the customers needs. I do fear therefore how inaccessible standard face masks will make our stores and the impact on our customers’ shopping experience. After all aren’t we all entitled to accessibility? It’s a basic human right.
In any stores, on a normal basis there are many factors of disturbances to consider for a deaf employee, as well as for a HOH customer. For example, from the air conditioning to store music. I have included my blog post which explains in more detail the obstacles and barriers below.
Meanwhile, while the fashion economy are now feeding of this opportunity with several offering reusable masks, none seem to have taken advantage of meeting the needs of the deaf and HOH population through using masks which make lips visible for lip reading. The publicity of accessibility and building bridges for those who are isolated in the way could be a phenomenal success for a retailer if this was achieved.
As a fashion retailer who has access to materials, manufacturers and designers to create masks with transparent windows could become a jewel in their crown.
With all the uproar surrounding diversity, why are disabilities still being held at random of disabling! After all diversity isn’t about race it’s about disabilities too.
Please join us, let’s stand together and and make the voices heard of the Deaf and HOH community. Let’s not isolate and exhaust those in need.