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Face covering exemption rules: how well are they understood?

We recently carried out some research to find out how the widespread use of face coverings has affected people who are deaf or have hearing loss, and if the exemption rules are understood. Here’s what you told us.

Background

Before face coverings became mandatory on public transport in June, we were working with the UK government to make them aware of the communication barriers that face coverings create for people who are deaf or have hearing loss. This led to the introduction of exemptions for people who are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lipreading to communicate.

In July, we carried out research to see if there was a demand for a card that people who are deaf or have hearing loss could use to let members of the public know of their communication needs. The vast majority of people who responded to our survey wanted some form of card to carry and show to people to let them know of their hearing loss.

We fed these findings back to the government and worked with them to create an exemption card and badge for people who have a legitimate reason not to wear a face covering, including a version that states “Please remove your face covering so I can understand you better”.

We wanted to find out how the widespread use of face coverings has affected people who are deaf or have hearing loss, and if the exemption rules are understood. So we shared a short survey on social media to get your feedback.

Thank you to everyone who took this survey. Your response gave us the evidence to present a persuasive case to government and argue for changes to how they implement their policy on face coverings.

Our main findings

  • Since the widespread use of face coverings in public settings, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the people who responded to our survey said they have avoided going to public spaces due to communication difficulties.
  • The vast majority of survey respondents (92%) were aware that some people are exempt from wearing face coverings, but more than half did not know how these exemptions are applied, or what they would mean for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

This suggests that most people don’t understand the purpose of the exemption rules, particularly for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

More needs to be done to raise awareness of how the exemption rules apply to people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

How we are responding to your feedback

It’s unacceptable that our communities feel like they have to avoid public spaces as a result of new communication barriers that COVID-19 has created.

It is vital that people understand how exemptions from wearing face coverings apply, and know how to communicate with people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Here’s what we’ve been doing, and continue to do, to help make this happen:

  • We have created a page about face coverings on our website, with information on the latest regulations, so our community can stay informed and have a clear understanding of how this affects them. Visit the face coverings page.
  • We launched our Access for All in Retail campaign and will be sending our open letter (signed by more than 1,700 of you so far) to major retailers across the UK in the coming weeks, calling on them to make their stores accessible. Find out more about the campaign.
  • We have been raising awareness of the barriers that face coverings create for our communities, and of the exemptions that may apply to them, in the local and national press.
  • We worked with the Police Federation to educate their officers about face covering exemptions and to help them understand how to communicate effectively with members of the public who may have difficulty understanding them due to face coverings. Read more about this work.
  • In light of new barriers such as face coverings, we have created and shared communication tips.

Find out more about our campaigning and influencing work during the COVID-19 crisis.

A reminder of the exemptions

Since face coverings were made mandatory on public transport and in spaces such as shops, the government has published guidance saying you do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to – for example, due to, health, age or equality reasons.

This means you are exempt if:

  • you cannot wear your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor securely with a face covering
  • wearing a face covering interferes with your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor
  • you are communicating with someone who relies on facial expressions or lipreading.

You can also ask someone else to keep a safe distance and lower their face covering if you need them to do this to communicate with you.