Since the outbreak of COVID-19, facemasks and personal protective equipment (PPE) have become a regular feature of our lives, but for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, masks can prevent them understanding spoken communication.
This is the message from Dr Andrea Pepper, Reader in Cancer Research and member of the Student Support team at BSMS, who is deaf herself. She is calling for all schools and universities to be aware of the need for clear face masks or PPE for staff and students who are hard of hearing.
Like many deaf or hearing impaired people, Andrea relies on her ability to lip-read and see facial expressions, and has struggled with the increase in PPE in a number of ways.
“It’s made me quite worried about going to the shops, petrol stations and places like that in case I need to communicate with someone and they’ve got a face mask on,” Andrea explains. “This hit me the first time I went out to take a parcel to the post office and suddenly thought ‘what happens if they’ve got a facemask on and ask me a question?’ I had to take my daughter with me and she had to interpret what was being said. I’ve got this feeling of a loss of independence at the moment, and wonder what impact this will have on me and other deaf people in everyday life.”
It is a problem she shares with some 466 million people around the world who, according to the World Health Organization, have disabling hearing loss.
Andrea is calling for all schools and universities to be aware of the need for clear face masks or PPE
It’s not just face-to-face communication that has affected Andrea since the COVID-19 outbreak – the increase and reliance on virtual meetings have also proved difficult for her.
“The connection can often be bad which makes it really hard to lip read,” Andrea says. “There is an automated captions function in software like Microsoft Teams but I find these can be hit and miss, inaccurate and delayed. It is also difficult to know who is speaking as it just appears as a list of words without signifying a different speaker.”
With hearing impaired people depending so heavily on lip reading and facial expressions to interpret what’s being said, Andrea feels all universities should be aware of this issue, particularly as many are currently planning to return to teaching in September. “As a nation, we need to address the issue of facemasks. We should aim to introduce clear facemasks or possibly visors with a band so that people can see the whole of someone’s face. It is important for us as a medical school to address this, and we have already highlighted the need for clear face masks and visors to be sourced and supplied.
“With most lectures now being recorded, I also encourage all lecturers to really think about what their captions will be like, speak really clearly and include all of the important information on slides.”
For further information and support, the Action for hearing loss charity website has lots of useful content.
Visit Action for hearing loss >