Medical academic pleads for clear face masks to help deaf people

Posted On 22 Jun 2020 at 2:24 pm

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

Andrea Pepper said: “For people who are deaf or have hearing loss, masks can prevent them 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.”

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