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Face masks and lipreading

With the wearing of face coverings on public transport becoming mandatory from 15 June (and with rumours that they may also be mandated in other indoor settings), we and many others are concerned at the unintended consequences for people who rely on lipreading. Clearly that includes Deaf people and those with some degree of hearing loss but many people rely on lipreading to support their hearing, more than perhaps even they realise. There are also likely to be increased difficulties for people with other communication needs, e.g. following Stroke, and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists has issued a statement on the matter. And of course, ironically, the wearing of masks muffles speech, making hearing much more difficult.

The charity National Deaf Children’s Society has produced a briefing and has approached us to support their campaign for face masks which include a transparent window to enable lipreading. We know there are issues around this in terms of a material which doesn’t mist up – thereby still obscuring mouth shape – and breathability, but we also know from the US that there are solutions out there. Ideally, we would like the government to mandate the wearing of accessible masks – accessible to both the person wearing them and also to the people they are communicating with. In the meantime, and in the absence of legislation or guidance, we want to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage people to choose to wear an accessible mask. But to get these produced in sufficient quantities, we need evidence of demand.

So we are asking our Partners and Members:

  • Would you be prepared to mandate/recommend the wearing of masks with a clear window to enable lipreading for your employees (subject to suitable and appropriate materials being made available and a specification which meets other standards)?
  • Would you be willing to purchase such masks for your employees, and if so, how many would you need?

We have created a very short online survey to complete – it should only take a few minutes of your time and your answers will be enormously helpful in shaping our response to this issue.

Meanwhile, our Advice Service is issuing a detailed briefing and guidance on face masks which will be available shortly.

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