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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Deaf people ‘left out’ of mandatory COVID-19 masks conversation

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As the world continues to battle the novel coronavirus, face masks have become an essential accessory. But what does this mean for those who depend on lip reading to communicate?

Current rules regarding the mandatory use of face masks in Qatar and worldwide has brought about unique and frustrating problems for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. It has become apparent that while the need to wear face masks has been made clear, the dealings regarding how this impacts deaf citizens has been somewhat overlooked.

For deaf people who depend on lip reading to communicate with others, the fairly recent addition to every-day life has increased feelings of isolation and neglect. 

Global governments have been accused of lack initiative to better navigate communicative environments and tools in order to support deaf people within our communities.

“Many people who are deaf or have hearing loss rely heavily on visual cues for effective communication, including facial expressions and lip-reading,” an anonymous deaf local told Doha News. 

“This has the potential to create further isolation among an already marginalised community of people, causing additional stress and anxiety to people at an already very difficult time. Sign Language relies heavily on facial expression which is why in itself it’s not an answer to the problem of mask wearing,” they said. 

This will heighten anxiety and trauma for those attempting to communicate in public spaces, including hospitals or supermarkets, prompting questions on inclusivity to support various demographics of people who are often forgotten about in these wider conversations.

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In Qatar there are no specific guidelines in relation to mask wearing and deaf people. The Ministry of Public Health provides guidance on the use of masks for the public in the context of COVID-19 advising residents to wear masks as just one of a series of preventative measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Locally, authorities have implemented strict enforcement of the rules and have referred thousands to the Public Prosecution for not wearing masks in mandatory public spaces.

“In the implementation of the cabinet decision and Law No. 17 of 1990 regarding infectious diseases, and the preventive and precautionary measures in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus the competent authorities call on the public to adhere to the precautionary and preventive decisions in force to protect them and others from the spread of the Coronavirus in society,” a statement on the Ministry of Interior websites says, making no mention of deaf people.

Transparent Masks  

So far, the United States Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has approved one surgical mask with a fog-resistant clear window, called ‘The Communicator’. 

Other clear masks, that are not yet FDA cleared for healthcare use, are also becoming popular. ClearMask allows full-face visibility and can be purchased in bulk. Retailer Etsy is also a popular option as consumers have found small independent companies who offer  fully transparent masks, as well as anti-fog clear masks.

Ways to become more inclusive

While there have yet to be official avenues to assist those with hearing impediments, there are ways to be more mindful when lip reading is not possible.

Other helpful tips to help those hard of hearing include:

  • Speaking clearly – avoid shouting or speaking unnecessarily slowly as this can be patronising
  • Say things differently – if you are asked to repeat something try and use alternative words and phrasing
  • Check understanding – ask the person to repeat the information back to you
  • Use plain language – be clear and straight to the point
  • Reduce background noise 
  • Where possible always provide or follow up with written information
  • Speak to a friend or relative – if requested by the person.

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