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New regulations on face masks must consider deaf people, says RNID

New regulations about mask wearing in England are important and necessary for public health, but charity RNID wants to make sure that the needs of the one in five adults in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss, are considered. When masks were introduced in 2020, 63% of people responding to a survey reported that they had avoided going to public spaces because of the difficulties in meeting their communication needs.

In total 146,000 adults in Cheshire have hearing loss so the new rules around masks and the challenges that brings for communication will affect a lot of people in the region.

As such, RNID have issued a statement that sets out three straightforward actions to make sure that deaf people and those with hearing loss aren’t excluded from shops and transport, while keeping themselves and others safe.

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of the charity RNID, said:
“Of course we understand why the Government has taken urgent action in response to the risk posed by the Covid Omicron variant. But the Government, shops and transport companies must address the needs of deaf people and those with hearing loss, so wider mandatory use of faces masks in England doesn’t exclude them from services and leave them isolated.”

“Without being able to see people’s faces to support lip reading and other communication, many deaf people have struggled to access their normal, essential services during the pandemic. Two out of three told us they had avoided going into public places because they were worried about their communication needs not being met after masks were introduced. This must not happen now. Some people are also exempt from wearing masks because of the need to accommodate hearing aids or cochlear implants, or because they are accompanying someone with hearing loss. These exemptions need to be communicated properly to avoid situations where people are challenged unfairly and aggressively because they aren’t wearing a mask.”

“It’s vital that information for deaf communities about these changes is accessible to them, including updates in British Sign Language. In addition, there are three simple actions that will ensure deaf people and people with hearing loss still have access to services, while staying safe. First, people working in shops and transport should be encouraged to wear face coverings with a clear panel and reminded that they are allowed to lower their mask to support communication, wherever it’s safe to do so. Second, the Government’s updates about mask wearing should include information about deaf people’s communication needs and about exemptions. Finally, the Government should reassure businesses and the public about the safety of wearing clear face masks, to encourage greater deaf awareness and better communication with deaf people and those with hearing loss.”

David Haughton, Development Officer at RNID in the North: “1 in 4 adults in Cheshire have hearing loss, which is above the UK average, so it’s really important that their communication needs are considered. Many deaf people and people with hearing loss have struggled to access normal services during the pandemic and have avoided public places due to the challenges of communication. We urge everyone to consider wearing a face covering with a clear panel to support people with hearing loss and to follow RNID’s communication tips, such as facing the person you’re talking to, moving to a quiet area and turning down background music, and considering lowering your mask to help communication when it’s safe to do so.”



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