The latest guidance from the States has meant a difficult time for some, because masks not only stop them lip reading but also muffle voices and hide a large proportion of the face, making it extremely difficult to read facial expressions.
Emma Lancaster, 33, had continual ear infections as a child and was hard of hearing during the critical stages of development until she had surgery when she was five. While she is no longer hard of hearing, she has auditory processing disorder and relies on lip reading to understand what a person is saying.
‘It is so exhausting at the moment,’ she said.
‘Having to constantly remind friends and colleagues to remove their masks is draining and embarrassing.
‘It’s the first thing I’m saying in a sentence now, I hate it.’
Mrs Lancaster explained that in the past week she has had two people refuse to remove their mask after telling them she is primarily a lip reader, despite States advice noting that it is fine to do so for lip readers. One of these people was a health care professional.
‘Many people have never heard of APD and they do the standard “they must be hard of hearing so I’ll just talk louder”. It doesn’t work and it just brings more attention to us.’
Guernsey Deaf Children’s Society chairwoman Leonie Burrows explained that this can be a terribly frustrating time for the hearing impaired and can leave them feeling even more isolated than usual.
Mrs Burrows gave her advice on communicating with someone who is hard of hearing or relies on lip reading. ‘If someone has a hearing loss and is struggling to understand, I would suggest taking a step back to a safe distance and removing your mask so they can see your lips.
‘If you are not able to or don’t feel comfortable doing that, then rephrase your sentence as that might help them compute what you are saying to them. Failing that, use another form of communication such as pen and paper.’
Both Mrs Lancaster and Mrs Burrows noted that clear visors were the best solution if available.
‘Clear visors aren’t a problem at all and I feel relief when I see them as I know I don’t need to make myself known as someone “different’’, said Mrs Lancaster.
Sunflower lanyards are available for islanders with hidden disabilities and the States has provided printable mask exemption cards and cards asking for a face covering to be removed for better understanding.
The Guernsey Hard of Hearing Association has had some cards printed and laminated for the hearing-impaired which read ‘I cannot lip read through your mask’.
The cards are small enough to keep in a wallet or purse and some people have them saved as an image on their phone to show instead.
The States website has a full list of locations where sunflower lanyards and exemption and explanation cards are available.