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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Face masks a challenge for deaf community

The deaf and hard of hearing community is reminding Canberrans to be patient when communicating, as the recommendation of wearing face masks in public adds an extra challenge to their everyday life.

DeafACT board member, Jacob Clarke, communicates in Auslan but said social cues such as body language and lip reading are a large part of his interactions.

“Facial expressions are vital to communicate and understand each other because they contribute to how we all feel and express ourselves depending on the context,” he said.

“With face masks, these are covered and it’s proven difficult to understand what they are trying to say without these expressions.

“This can increase their anxiety on how they approach and communicate with (the community).”

While wearing face masks is not yet mandatory in the ACT, businesses including Woolworths and Bunnings have recommended customers wear them whilst in their stores.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has also previously stated that Territory residents may be required to wear face masks if cases of COVID-19 return to the Territory or the surrounding regions.

Mr Clarke has advised the wider community to keep the following tips in mind when communicating with the deaf and hard of hearing community during this time:

 – Be patient;

 – Listen when deaf people advise you how they would like to communicate;

 – Wear a clear face shield;

 – If they use their device to communicate, use yours to respond;

 – Use paper and pen while maintaining social distance; 

 – Can remove mask to communicate where necessary as long 1.5m is maintained;

 – Use Speech apps such as Google live transcribe (android), Otter (iOS but note app has built in);

 – Use visual cues such as gesturing and pointing (i.e. body language). 

Mr Clarke also said there had been some additional challenges for the deaf and hard of hearing community during this time, including receiving medical advice and treatment.

“Some deaf people have had bad experiences when trying to communicate with nurses and doctors in full PPE kits at the COVID-19 testing clinics,” he said.

“This sort of situation can cause panic or anxiety attacks as they require to be fully accommodated on what’s going on. “I was tested for COVID-19 at EPIC a few months ago and I was fortunate enough to be accommodated. They were able to take the mask off and maintain social distancing, and they even used hand gestures which were easy to understand.”

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