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Charity calls on government to issue urgent guidance about mandatory face coverings

5 June 2020

Action on Hearing Loss, the UK’s leading charity for those affected by deafness or hearing loss, is calling on the government to provide urgent and clear guidance on face coverings following Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary’s announcement that the wearing of face coverings will be compulsory on public transport in England from 15 June, as this will have a huge effect on the millions of people in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Shapps added in his announcement that there would be some exemptions for very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties. However the guidance must take account of the needs of the hearing loss and deaf community who rely on lip-reading to communicate. It’s vital that exceptions also apply to those communicating with those with disabilities.

The Transport Secretary’s announcement comes nearly four weeks after the Government first issued guidance to advise people to wear masks in enclosed public spaces – and in this time there has been no information provided to help people with hearing loss.

Many people who are deaf or have hearing loss rely heavily on visual cues for effective communication including facial expressions and lip-reading. Being able to see lip patterns and facial expressions is also vital for those who communicate through British Sign Language. Words which sound similar but have different meanings become very difficult to distinguish. This can lead to a breakdown in communication.

Emma Mendes de Costa, who is deaf said;

“I’m deaf and reliant on public transport to get to and from work every day. I’ve yet to even find a mask that I can wear comfortably with my hearing aids. Without them, I won’t understand anyone in masks. To be blunt, I’m scared.”

Ayla Ozmen, Head of Research & Policy at Action on Hearing Loss has said:

“The move to making face covering mandatory on public transport will create new challenges for the twelve million people across the UK who have some form of hearing loss. Many with hearing loss rely on lipreading to communicate and ace coverings make this impossible. This move has the potential to create further isolation amongst an already marginalised community of people. We want to ensure that people with hearing loss can communicate whilst also protecting themselves and others.

“It is not acceptable that announcements on face coverings have been made without issuing guidance on the impact for people with hearing loss to the public and service providers. The needs of those in the deaf or hearing loss community shouldn’t be an afterthought – their needs should have been identified when the announcement was made and guidance already in place. For people with hearing loss to be able to go about their daily lives it is now even more important that everyone, especially those providing frontline services to the public, considers how they communicate with each other to be as inclusive as possible.”


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Notes to editors

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) is the national charity helping people living with deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss to live the life they choose. Action on Hearing Loss enables them to take control of their lives and remove the barriers in their way, giving people support and care, developing technology and treatments, and campaigning for equality.

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