Should We Be Using Masks with a Clear Window During the Covid 19 Lockdown?

One of the biggest challenges of our current lockdown situation in the UK is that with the general public wearing cloth masks in public spaces, in supermarkets and shops it has made it harder than ever for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing to lip-read.

Which is an essential communication tactic used to understand what someone is saying. In fact an estimated 30 - 40% of speech can be lip-read.

Lip-reading is used in support of being able to hear what someone says, therefore if we cannot hear what someone is saying we rely much more heavily on this.

 

There have been creations of face masks with vinyl fronts to still allow for lip-reading, however hand-made face masks in this way are difficult to produce without condensation of your voice building up on the vinyl and distorting the image of your lips.

This therefore making the "clear window" ability redundant. There are vinyl face masks out there that have been produced in the USA that are anti-fog and also meet guidelines. A company called Safe N Clear is one and they have produced a patent-protected ASTM Level 1 Surgical Facemask with a clear window.  Similar to the reason that surgical grade masks should be kept for medical and front line staff during this time, such products with clear windows are best kept for emergency staff who need to communicate to patients in vital situations.

Therefore due to the realistic nature of the general public being able to use such masks it is important to think about ways to reduce communication barriers during the pandemic while still adhering to government guidelines on the use of masks.

Here are a number of approaches we should be thinking about that help to either reduce the barrier or reducing the need to lip-read at this current time.

Video Calling

Call loved ones regularly via Facetime, Zoom or video calling apps. This means conversations are held within the home and allow conversations to happen without a mask

If doing a group video chat with friends and family, set up a writen dialog platform where someone can also write down what is being said.

 

Speech to Text App

There are now a number of applications you can use either on your computer or download them to your smart phone or tablet. These apps allow for speech to be easily and quickly translated into written words to be used with people. This is a handy tool to carry with you.

 

Take Advantage of This Time to Write

This doesn't have to just be popping a letter into the post box. If you're got a Deaf or Hard of Hearing loved one that doesn't enjoy video calling but is internet savvy, send them a lovely "letter style" email. Or send a letter as a PDF document that can be printed out at a loved ones home and given to someone who really loves to read or hear about what you have been up to.

 

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Badges

Being more obvious about being Deaf or having a hearing loss. There are a wonderful array of badges that can be bought from the UK charity Hearing Link that help to express your communication needs in a visible way. For some this may feel too " in your face" however during this time where there is a good chance you will be struggling more. If you are simply doing your weekly supermarket shop and someone mumbles to you behind their facemask. Wearing a badge gives them an opportunity to notice and use alternative communication to tell or ask you about something.

 

Use Communication Picture Aids

Use visual communication cards are a very helpful way of communicating even without words. This generally applies to basic essentials of daily life and the cards can be obtained from a number of health organisations and charities. The one below comes from Activites to Share based in Kent.

 

 

Non-Verbal Communication Other Than Lip-reading

Non- verbal communication is not all about lip-reading, it is also about your body language as well as gestures made. This can be even displaying the number of apples you need to pick up with your fingers, to even a shrug of the shoulders showing that "you don't know". You' be surprised to notice how much we display through non-verbal communication when you're only looking an non-verbal communication.

 

Be Aware of How You Speak Behind A Mask

Lastly and most importantly be aware of how you are speaking behind a mask. If making face to face conversation using a mask make sure to speak at a normal pace and with a clear consise tone. Mumbling very quickly into your mask will make it difficult for anyone to hear you.

 

Summary

The main concern at this current time, is that we keep safe and stay at home to protect ourselves and others. By reducing our time out in public at the moment also means we have fewer interactions with people we do not know therefore planning for this scenario can help you when it comes to communicating in this setting.

 

 

References:

https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

https://www.ndcs.org.uk/information-and-support/language-and-communication/spoken-language/supporting-speaking-and-listening/lip-reading/

https://www.hearinglink.org/

https://safenclear.com/

 

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