Deaf community facing 'frustrating' challenges as masks limit communication

Volunteer Yve Mary Barwood.

Volunteer Yve Mary Barwood pictured at launch of WNDA's campaign earlier this year. - Credit: WNDA

Members of the deaf and hard of hearing community say they have faced "frustrating" challenges during the pandemic as face masks significantly limit their communication.

The deaf community is particularly hard-hit when masks are required, with the coverings creating a barrier in communication and lipreading becoming "impossible" in certain situations.

It prompted the West Norfolk Deaf Association (WNDA) to launch a campaign earlier this year to raise awareness of the issues people were facing and call for help.

Oli Kenny, a trustee at WNDA, who was born profoundly deaf and wears a cochlear implant, has shared his recent struggles when visiting his GP surgery after being unable to communicate with a member of staff behind the counter.

Oli Kenny, a trustee at WNDA.

Oli Kenny, a trustee at WNDA. - Credit: WNDA

He said he had asked the woman, who was wearing a mask, face shield and was behind a large screen, to move her mask down so he could lipread but that she refused. 

He added: "I thought I would try and explain that I am profoundly deaf and need to lipread so she would understand why I was asking, but she refused again and I was so shocked I laughed."

Mr Kenny said he was left feeling "frustrated and annoyed" at why someone was not able to remove their "mask for a couple of minutes" to help.

He added: "Luckily, the manager was there and moved his mask so I could understand. It’s really not that difficult to work round the deaf community."

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WNDA manager Anna Pugh echoed his concerns, saying masks had created an "even greater sense of isolation for many people" who rely on lipreading.

Anna Pugh, general manager at West Norfolk Deaf Association

Anna Pugh, manager at West Norfolk Deaf Association - Credit: Anna Pugh

She added: "Mask wearing, while necessary for us all to be safe, has shown how hard it is to communicate without being able to see people's faces clearly."

She called for people serving those with hearing difficulties to be mindful and to remove masks if they are able to safely maintain social distancing.

WNDA sign placed in businesses to help those who rely on lipreading.

WNDA sign placed in businesses earlier this year to help those who rely on lipreading. - Credit: WNDA

WNDA is offering classes in January including deaf awareness and communication training, lipreading and British Sign Language taster sessions.

Inspired by Strictly Come Dancing’s deaf winner Rose Ayling-Ellis, the charity is also holding its own version of the BBC show every Saturday from January 8 to March 5, which it has named 'WNDA Does Strictly'.

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