Care Homes & COVID-19 Coronavirus Deaf

Lip reading in masks? – The downside of PPE for the deaf & the solution

Lip reading in masks

Lip reading in masks? – The downside of PPE for the deaf & the solution

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, face masks have become a common site in all sorts of situations. While it has been difficult for most people to adjust to wearing masks, members of the deaf community and those who are hard of hearing have been faced with some specific problems. Lip reading in masks can be an extremely challenging task, meaning that people living with deafness and hearing loss have been faced with new communication challenges since the arrival of Covid-19.

How many people rely on lipreading?

Approximately 17% of the UK population live with some degree of hearing loss, rising to 71% for those who are aged 70 or older, so there’s a high likelihood that even if you’re not personally affected by hearing loss, you’ll know someone who is and who therefore struggles with lipreading in masks. With such a substantial portion of the population being affected in some way, we can see why it’s vitally important for PPE Equipment manufacturers to begin to consider how they can keep people safe while also considering the needs of those who rely on lip reading.

Which situations are particularly challenging for the deaf community?

It has been widely reported that members of the deaf community and those who are hard of hearing have been particularly negatively impacted by the use of opaque face masks when trying to gain access to necessary information in medical settings. While some people living with deafness can access medical information in a virtual format, lagging videos and unstable internet connections can cause particular difficulties for those who rely on lipreading.

For others, video consultations aren’t a feasible alternative. The need to wear face masks in medical settings means that those who would normally be able to rely on lip-reading now have to rely on BSL interpreters to get the information they need. However, 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 situation has caused particularly acute issues for those living with both hearing loss and mental health conditions or learning disabilities. Patients suffering from paranoia or anxiety may find their conditions worsening when being treated on a regular basis by nurses and doctors with whom they can suddenly no longer communicate. However, PPE (personal protective equipment) isn’t optional in medical settings – so what can be done to make lip reading in masks possible?

What solutions for lip reading in masks are available?

1. Written communication

Resorting to written communication in order to communicate effectively with deaf patients is an easy, low-cost solution. Be aware that some members of the deaf community may speak BSL as a native language and English as an additional language, so the effectiveness of written communication will depend on the patient.

2. A basic knowledge of BSL

If a BSL interpreter is unavailable or if you’re unable to carry out a consultation with both an interpreter and a patient in a Covid-safe manner, you may find that a knowledge of even a handful of basic BSL signs will come in useful. Particularly useful signs to know include ‘where’, ‘hurt’ and various body parts.

3. Transparent masks for lip reading in masks

While transparent masks not as widely available as opaque masks, it’s now possible to buy face masks that protect against Covid-19 but have an integrated, transparent panel that allows the wearers’ mouth to be seen. These masks allow lipreading to take place, so make communication easier for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Relevant posts

Clear face masks – why we should all be wearing them

Benefits of transparent masks

Deaf & hard of hearing – Covid challenges

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