Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Medical academic pleads for clear face masks

A Brighton medical school academic who is profoundly deaf is calling for clear face masks so people who are deaf can still lip read. 

Andrea Pepper said: “For people who are deaf or have hearing loss, masks can prevent them from understanding spoken communication.” Dr Pepper, a reader at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), run by the universities of Brighton and Sussex, relies on her ability to lip-read and see facial expressions, and has struggled with the increase in personal protective equipment (PPE). 

She said: “It’s made me quite worried about going to the shops, petrol stations and places like that in case I need to communicate with someone and they’ve got a face mask on. “This hit me the first time I went out to take a parcel to the post office and suddenly thought ‘what happens if they’ve got a facemask on and ask me a question?’ “I had to take my daughter with me and she had to interpret what was being said. 

“I’ve got this feeling of a loss of independence at the moment and wonder what impact this will have on me and other deaf people in everyday life.” It is a problem that she shares with some 466 million people around the world who, according to the World Health Organisation, have disabling hearing loss. And it’s not just face-to-face communication that has affected Dr Pepper since the covid-19 outbreak – the increase and reliance on virtual meetings have also proved difficult for her. 

 She said: “The connection can often be bad which makes it really hard to lip read. “There is an automated captions function in software like Microsoft Teams but I find these can be hit and miss, inaccurate and delayed. “It is also difficult to know who is speaking as it just appears as a list of words without signifying a different speaker.” With hearing impaired people depending so heavily on lip reading and facial expressions to interpret what’s being said, Dr Pepper said that all universities should be aware of the issue, particularly as many are currently planning to return to teaching in September.

She added: “As a nation, we need to address the issue of face masks. We should aim to introduce clear facemasks or possibly visors with a band so that people can see the whole of someone’s face. “Covid-19 has changed the way we live and we need to be re-evaluating the processes in place to help people with disabilities.” 

ATR COMMENT:  While we can empathise about lip-reading difficulties the 'clear mask' issue is never really explained. Initially, they don't offer protection, to either the medical staff or the deaf patient.  Masks are to stop YOU from infecting others.  It's a huge ask to demand medicos risk infection for you even for access. Clear masks are neutralised if they steam up or if the medical person has a beard or such too.  Some people you will never lip-read regardless if wearing a mask or not.

The reality is dedicated sign language interpreters have said no themselves.  It's very low-key complaining against those they accept sign terps can do that so why discriminate against health workers?  It's been said so many times how MANY deaf CAN effectively lip-read?  i.e. rely totally on lip-reading for their own access?  We are never told how many deaf lip-readers actually presented the demand, we know it is a 'right' but COVID doesn't care for rights, human or deaf ones. There are no stats evident anywhere as we can see.  The needs of the many outweigh etc so sadly a few dedicated lip-readers are not going to get priority with 10m HoH apparently settling for text and alternative options.

Yes, speech to text is random but I suspect lip-reading is well up there for poor effectiveness too.  It is a 'supplement' for many deaf, a lot who rely not on lip-reading but sign language, the reality is more hard of hearing utilise lip-reading than the deaf, and they are silent about masks.  Mainly because they know how to adapt to other means to follow, but deaf don't feel they should adapt anyway.

They are stuck in pre-COVID mode.  It is surprising the health worker is unaware that only one clear mask medically approved is available, or, that currently, none are.  ATR gave out the only supplier link of such approved masks recently.  If ATR can find it why can't medical staff?  These DIY masks simply won't do.  Adapt and survive, because COVID (Not medical staff), are dictating how access can work and just loves people who offer it an easy in.  With all the issues the NHS face daily trying to save lives the last thing we need are deaf attacking them for discrimination.

Can you see facial 'expressions' if ONLY The mouth is visible? Discuss. Maybe 644m have a hearing loss but I doubt they live in the U of K, or are all lip-readers either.  Most deaf reject the disability tag as well so we are wondering why they are now suddenly disabled as well?  They aren't adapting to the situation frankly and desperate to return to some old status quo, which is we are told, not going to happen. Anyway, access was crap then too.