Over the past four years we have learned just how much information is gathered during a conversation not just through speech but also through facial expressions. We speak with our voices but our faces tell the story, even as a hearing person a significant amount of information is gathered through facial expressions. This is compounded immensely for a deaf person, especially when they rely on lip reading as a primary form of communication or if they are using lip reading to supplement a hearing device.
We know that Rebecca comprehends most of what we say when her hearing devices are on but there are times when she will focus in on our lips to help her better understand what we are saying. Wearing masks for us as a family is a challenge while communicating with Rebecca but with sign language and our general understanding of what she needs we can still communicate effectively. The other day however while at the store the cashier told Rebecca how beautiful she was, and as I was trying to shuffle items into my basket I noticed that Rebecca was staring blankly ahead and did not react, it was like nothing was said at all. I stopped what I was doing and signed what the cashier had said and I saw Rebecca’s eyes light up and it really hit me in that moment how much she was missing. It didn’t seem fair that she would miss so much if this becomes a permanent part of our culture.
There are many deaf people that you may come across on a daily basis that solely rely on lip reading, you may not even notice because they have become so incredibly skilled that it is undetectable. Many people will develop these skills because they want to, but others are fearful of the stigma associated with asking someone to repeat themselves, so they develop these skills out of necessity.
Masks are a huge barrier to communication for a deaf person but they are also critical in the fight to save lives. One obvious solution is to develop a clear mask. There are a few people making homemade masks with clear windows but the supplies are extremely limited and it really only helps if everyone is wearing them. Also many of these masks simply use a clear window that does not breathe and therefore fogs up, ultimately defeating the purpose it was intended for. We need a mask too that is affordable, breathable and able to be mass produced. This is a concept drawing of what a mask such as this could look like.
Masks are not going to go away so a solution must be found, it will just take the right group of people working on this problem to come up with a viable and sustainable solution. We need public officials and news agencies to start changing their policies when speaking to the public to ensure that all have access to the information they are providing. This will help raise awareness and begin to ensure everyone has access to information.