New mandatory rules on face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are creating significant communication barriers for more than 300,000 people in Ireland who rely on lip-reading, it has emerged.
Chime, the national charity for deafness and hearing loss, wants the National Public Health Emergency Team to consider face shields as an acceptable face covering for people when travelling on public transport and for healthcare workers when seeing someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.
Head of advocacy at Chime, Brendan Lennon, said they knew of instances where patients did not know what health workers were saying because they were wearing masks.
“Many members of the public, including many we suspect have undiagnosed hearing loss, have remarked to us in recent weeks how they have found it more difficult to have conversations due to people wearing face coverings,” said Mr Lennon.
The charity has written to the NPHET asking members to consider face shields as an acceptable face covering for people, particularly healthcare workers.
It points out that in a hearing world deafness is often considered as an invisible disability but the “new normal” world has not considered how the changes affect those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Chime fully recognises the value of face coverings to prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, the use of face masks, in particular, creates significant communications to people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” said Mr Lennon.
Chime service user, Betty from Offaly, said she felt even more isolated now because face masks had made it impossible for her to lip read to have a conversation.
“It makes life more difficult so I'm more reluctant to go out and about,” said Betty.
Con from Longford said he found it difficult to collect his prescription from the pharmacy because the staff wear face masks.
“If transparent face shields are used by healthcare workers, it will make communication much easier and lessen the feelings of isolation deaf and hard of hearing people are feeling during the pandemic,” said Con.
Chime's Share a Smile fundraising campaign is encouraging people to upload a smiling selfie to social media while wearing a mask and using the #ShareASmile hashtag to show how hard it is for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to read emotions, facial expressions and lips because of the facial covering.