Care Homes & COVID-19 Coronavirus Deaf NHS & COVID-19

Deaf & hard of hearing – Covid challenges

Deaf & hard of hearing - covid challenges

Deaf & hard of hearing – Covid challenges

Adjusting to wearing facemasks as personal protective equipment while doing everyday tasks such as grocery shopping has been difficult for everyone. For the deaf and hard of hearing community, however, the sudden requirement to wear masks everywhere has posed some unique challenges. Here are some of the challenges that Covid-19 has brought about specifically for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Issue 1: Masks make lip reading impossible

Many non-deaf people will know vaguely what British Sign Language (BSL) is. The first thing that springs to mind is commonly used BSL signs. What many people outside of the deaf and hard of hearing community don’t realise is that signs don’t make up the entirety of BSL. The facial expressions and lip movements accompanying the signs are also very much an integral part of the language.

It is therefore extremely difficult to communicate effectively in BSL when the mouth is covered by a face mask. A deaf person may not realise that someone is trying to communicate with them at all when that person’s mouth is obscured by a face mask.

Issue 2: A lack of BSL-interpretation for Covid-related information

For the six million people in the UK who rely on lip-reading as a communication method, opaque face masks understandably pose a real barrier to communication. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only communication issue that deaf and hard of hearing people have faced since the Covid outbreak. While the general public can, for the most part, easily access the government’s daily Covid briefings, it’s not so simple for those who are deaf or suffer from hearing loss.

As far back as April 2020, deaf campaigners began to argue that a lack of BSL interpreters at Covid briefings meant that they were, unfairly, not being given access to vital information about how to stay safe during the pandemic.

Those who argue that members of the deaf community should simply rely on English subtitles should be aware that this argument is misguided. BSL is a fundamentally different language to English. Many (though by no means all) people who were born with profound hearing loss have BSL as their native language and only read English to a simple level. In an interview with the BBC in April, deaf campaigner Lynn Stewart-Taylor stated that BSL is her native language and reading English subtitles on the news is “like trying to work out something written in a foreign language.”

Issue 3: Difficulty communicating for the deaf & hard of hearing in medical settings

Communicating effectively in medical settings is another issue faced by those who are living with deafness or hearing loss.

GPs and other professionals are increasingly carrying out video consultations. Dealing with lag during video calls is a nuisance for all of us, but for deaf and hard of hearing people lag is a real impediment to communication. Poor quality video calls can again make lip-reading difficult or impossible, making it hard for those with hearing loss to gain access to the medical care they need.

Communication issues aren’t limited to the virtual world. Members of the deaf community also struggle to access medical care due to a lack of medical interpreters who know BSL.

Some people have successfully worked with medical interpreters via video remote interpreting (VRI), but sometimes people, for example those with learning disabilities or other complex needs, must be assessed in person. Carrying out BSL interpretation in Covid-safe conditions is an incredibly difficult task. This is limiting the ability of those living with deafness to access necessary medical care.

The above issues show us that while Covid-19 has disrupted the everyday lives of millions, those who are deaf and hard of hearing have been disproportionately affected. As it begins to look increasingly likely the use of surgical face masks will become a long-term norm for protection against viruses, it has also become apparent that PPE Equipment manufacturers must do more to make their products accessible for members of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Medicshield has a clear face mask available to support communication for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Relevant Posts

Clear face masks – why we should all be wearing them

Benefits of transparent masks

Lip reading in masks

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