For people who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate, Plexiglas barriers and mask-clad staff can mean a loss of independence.
Shane Warde, who is fully deaf in his left ear and partially deaf in his right, said since the start of the pandemic he has been avoiding public places.
He depends almost entirely on lip reading to communicate and now, with almost everyone wearing masks, he has lost this ability.
“I used to be able to have a perfect conversation with people,” Warde said, joking that he used to be so chatty it would annoy his wife when they went out together.
Now, he can’t go out without his wife. He has to rely on her to talk with people.
Speaking through a translator, Trulaine Johnny said that after having her cochlear implants removed she became less reliant on lip reading and more reliant on facial expressions when communicating with hearing people. This too is heavily impacted by mask-wearing.
“We don’t know what tones are taking place. We don’t know the feelings or reactions,” Johnny said. She explained that “it’s facial expressions that convey tonations in deaf culture.”
Johnny said she uses text or pen and paper to communicate with people in public, but without being able to see people’s faces it’s harder.
Warde said he has had people recommend using pen and paper, but that he often feels anxious taking up more time if there are other people in a line behind him.
He said sometimes when he explains to people that he is hard of hearing they back up and lower their mask to speak with him, but he doesn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to do that for him.
Both Warde and Johnny said they would like to see more awareness and understanding.
“There are a lot of people who mock and oppress and that oppression is a very difficult thing to deal with,” Johnny said. “There needs to be mutual respect. We’re all humans.”
Face shields and masks with clear centres – while not perfect solutions – are options that make it easier for people to lip read. The best solution though, said Johnny, is patience and understanding.
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