Wiltshire Publications

Deaf man raises awareness of communication issues caused by face masks

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A LOCAL man, who is profoundly deaf, is raising awareness about the communication issues caused by face masks.

From this Friday, 24th July, wearing face coverings in shops in England will become compulsory – and Matthew Fenlon, whose first language is British Sign Language, is asking the community to be aware that they may encounter someone who will struggle to understand them as they can’t lipread and follow what they are saying.

Matthew said, “Deaf people rely on lipreading, as well as facial expressions, to follow what someone is saying. Face masks are not accessible for us. I struggle to know what anyone is saying, as all I see is their eyes! 

“Sometimes I do need to ask people to remove their mask so I can lipread them and I have faced some people who have refused to do this. This has knocked my confidence to go out in the community and it’s taking my independence away.

“I understand why face coverings are needed – some people are not observing social distancing guidance – but I just hope people can be understanding and patient if a deaf person asks them to remove their mask so we can lipread. Or try to use gestures – what would be even better is if everyone learned to sign!”

Matthew works as a manager for a registered care home for deaf adults with additional needs, and the introduction of compulsory face coverings for key workers in care home environments also caused similar communication issues.

Matthew said, “Initially we had to wear masks that covered our mouths, which caused huge problems between staff and our clients – it made it so difficult for us to communicate. It was not until we were provided with the clear face visors that the issue was resolved.”

Whilst it will be compulsory for customers to wear face coverings in shops, it will not be compulsory for shop workers in England to wear a face covering as according to government minister, George Eustice,“it won’t always be right for every setting in a retail environment.”

However many workers already wear coverings, or are protected by a screen.

Matthew said, “Staff in shops who wear visors, where I can see all of their face, or those who work behind a screen, are easy for me to understand – and I appreciate shops that do this as it makes their services accessible to me.” 

Above: Matthew Fenlon demonstrates the difference a face covering and a face visor can make to communication for deaf and hard of hearing people.