Face masks are being used extensively across Spain but please spare a thought for the one section of our population for whom they are only proving to be a hindrance: The deaf and hard of hearing.

While surgical masks have been the norm in Asian countries, they’re a new addition to Western society as we attempt to fend off the spread of the deadly disease but the coverings are posing yet another challenge for the deaf and hard of hearing population of more than 450 million globally, or 5% of the world. Plus, there are many older people who are increasingly suffering from a hearing loss and they’re a group that is at higher risk in battling Covid-19.

This new accessory is now affecting everyone in the deaf and hard of hearing community—deaf people who rely on sign language still need facial expressions for a full understanding of what is being communicated.

Not only do they make communication during the pandemic hard to understand, they further alienate the deaf population, which can already feel left out. The facial coverings are increasingly worn by essential workers and public service employees, where communication has to be understandable.

Since the lockdown, there’s been much discussion about whether we should all be wearing face masks, with no consensus among either doctors or politicians and the one voice that has been noticeably absent from the debate is that of the deaf and hard of hearing, for whom mandatory mask- wearing would, many say, be “disastrous”.

Opaque face masks prevent deaf people from being able to communicate. David Miller who lives in La Marina  and who is profoundly deaf told the Leader that he is passionately against them becoming mandatory: “Not being able to see the movement of lips will be extremely detrimental to a deaf person’s access to communication and will affect their mental health,” he says. “They will have no understanding of what is being ‘said’ to them, and they will feel totally excluded from conversation.”

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