Following the Government’s new rules that face masks must be worn in shops and supermarkets from Friday 24th July, Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins is calling for a greater awareness of the impact this could have on deaf people, and for actions to be taken by retailers, pharmacists and other organisations to ensure deaf people are not discriminated against and can still communicate effectively.
There are over 12 million people in the UK who have some form of hearing loss, with many reliant upon lipreading to communicate. Charities and campaign groups are now pressing the government to take action to address the barriers and difficulties caused by face masks.
Toby said, “I have been contacted by representatives from Chesterfield who are deaf or have hearing loss and their families, who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to understand what people are saying to them, and have already experienced difficulties due to the increase in face coverings. Face coverings also suppress the sound which makes it more difficult for people with a moderate hearing loss.
This has caused many to feel anxious, isolated and discriminated against. I have heard stories of people trying to make an appointment at their GP only to be told they can only do this over the phone – which isn’t appropriate for deaf people who have no support. I have been told of people attending pharmacists and opticians, but even when staff were made aware the customer was deaf they still refused to remove their masks so they could communicate. It is important that we do all we can to protect public health and limit the spread of the virus, but with a bit of common sense and more awareness of the barriers faced by deaf people, we can ensure that deaf people are still able to communicate with people and access the services they need.”
Toby has written to the Cabinet Office to call for formal guidance and advice to be issued to all governmental departments to ensure that the deaf community has equal access to all public services, and to create an awareness campaign for the general public. Toby has also written to the British Retail Consortium to call for better training and awareness amongst retail staff. Toby has also joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hearing Loss to discuss the impact of coronavirus on the deaf community and what improvement are needed.
Toby added, “We all need to be more conscious of the fact that people may have limited hearing and do what we can to assist. This could mean more people wearing see-through face masks or visors, or just showing a bit of common sense and standing back a bit and removing the face mask to help deaf people communicate. A lack of guidance or forward-thinking from the Government has made things far more difficult for deaf people. I hope they will take some urgent action to raise awareness and put forward sensible guidance to help deaf people in their daily lives”