As we move forward into 2021, we are still facing the same issue regarding masks as we did in 2020 – the inability to understand and communicate effectively with others. While it is important for everyone to wear a mask for their own safety, and for the safety of others, it should be important to eliminate communication barriers, as well. Deaf individuals already experience barriers on a daily basis, so we don’t need to add another. Deaf people and even hearing people are urging everyone to be inclusive. One couple in France are associate professors, and one of their children is deaf. They say “both of us will soon be teaching in lecture theatres, and wearing face masks in line with French regulations. We support this policy, but we also know how difficult our son would find our lectures if he were there.” The couple understands the need to include each student in their classes. They say one way to be inclusive is to wear a clear mask so those with hearing loss can read lips.
In addition to lip-reading, Deaf people depend on facial expressions and grammar markers to understand what is being said. With clear masks, we are given the minimum communication access we need. We depend heavily on body language, not just lip-reading alone. Grammar markers serve three purposes: changing a statement into a question (by using eyebrows when asking a question), showing facial expression when we want to emphasize the emotion in the statement (happy face when happy, mad face when angry, etc), and adding tone to the statement (saying “fine” when you’re happy is different than saying “fine” when you are annoyed or angry). Also, for those individuals who have some hearing and rely on listening, speech from those who wear a mask becomes muffled and is much more difficult to understand. Hearing people say they sometimes struggle with understanding! You can easily find clear masks now on Amazon.com (just type in “clear masks), or if you are a DIY- type of person, simply follow the instructions: https://www.hsdc.org/accessible-deaf-friendly-face-mask/
A very common question that is asked is: “do we need to wear masks after receiving the vaccine?” It is expected that vaccinations won’t be completed until this summer, thus masks are still required until further notice.
Be assertive. There is nothing wrong with letting people know what your needs are! We all have different communication barriers, and so we all should work together and try to make communication as easy as possible.