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Compulsory mask wearing has left more than 90% of deaf people unable to communicate during the pandemic, a University of Essex study has found. It also found that 76% missed out on vital information and 59% felt disconnected from society because of face coverings.

This is because masks limit the ability to read lips and judge facial expressions. It also found that people over 55 who became deaf at a later age found communicating with masks a more difficult task. And deep deaf people and the signatories felt a greater disconnection from society and a negative impact on their well-being.

Dr. Eva Gutierrez-Sigut from the Department of Psychology led a team of deaf and hearing researchers who made sure the survey was available in different sign languages.

Nearly 400 people were surveyed to find out how COVID-19 has affected the deaf community, and a researcher hopes the findings will help shape state policy in health emergencies. Dr. Gutiérrez-Sigut says that “mask mandates have been vital in fighting the spread of the deadly coronavirus, but it has meant that some of our most vulnerable communities have been left behind. The pandemic shutdown has been hard on everyone, but even more so on the deaf and hard-to-reach – hearing”.

This research reveals the unintended consequences of policy in a rapidly evolving international emergency and how people can fall through the cracks. “When the world is hit by a pandemic again, governments need to do more to be inclusive and engage with communities to learn what they need to thrive and survive.”

The newspaper is published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications– also uncovered cultural differences in how masks affect comprehension, with the British struggling more than the Spanish in all areas.

This is thought to be due to the difference in mask rules and that the Spanish made more of an effort to use other means than speaking, such as gestures, writing or “some other creative alternatives”.

The study also found that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for deaf and hard-of-hearing people with masks. Gesture, speech reading, and other methods of communication affect understanding in conjunction with the level of deafness, whether they can use sign language, and when the hearing loss began.

However, a clear mask that made the entire mouth and lower face visible was the preferred option for many. Dr. Gutierrez-Sigut says that “most deaf people we spoke to agreed with this masks made a real difference and made everything from going to the grocery store to an important doctor’s appointment easier. However, it should be remembered that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for these communities. Deaf and hard of hearing people are not a homogenous group and have different needs.’

“However, one thing is clear: more needs to be done to engage with them. To do this, we have made a significant effort to create accessible research using sign language to reach them. We are very grateful that deaf and hard of hearing people have shared their experiences and we hope that we will be able to make their voices heard and seen.”


Face masks complicate the situation of the deaf


Additional information:
Eva Gutierrez-Sigut et al., How do face masks affect communication among deaf people?, Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications (2022). DOI: 10.1186/s41235-022-00431-4

Citation: Masks saw more than 90% of deaf people struggle to speak during pandemic (2022, October 3) Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-10-masks-deaf-people -struggle-pandemic. html

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