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Action on Hearing Loss helps Police Federation educate their officers about face covering exemptions

13 August 2020

Action on Hearing Loss, one of the UK’s leading charities for those living with deafness or hearing loss, has teamed up with the Police Federation of England and Wales, the staff association representing police, in order to help officers understand how to communicate effectively with members of the public who may have trouble understanding them due to wearing mandatory face coverings.

Face masks are having a huge impact on millions of people across the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss, as it is a communication barrier that makes many feel even more isolated and scared at an already difficult time.

The charity has designed some communication tips [1] which police officers are being signposted to and asked to adopt in order to communicate with the public effectively.

Many people who are deaf or have hearing loss rely heavily on visual cues for effective communication including facial expressions and lipreading. 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.

Roger Wicks, from Action on Hearing Loss England, said:

“Too often people living with deafness and hearing loss find that society isn’t deaf aware. 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. We are happy to be working with the police in order to make sure our communication tips are adopted in order to make communication easier for the communities we support.”

He added:

“Where face masks are worn and lipreading isn’t possible then police officers and the general public can still follow a number of simple communication tips: speaking clearly and slowly whilst using plain language, using assistive devices such as hearing loops and microphones and reducing the amount of background noise. If this still proves difficult then people should be prepared to write information down for those with hearing loss.”

Belinda Goodwin, Police Federation of England and Wales’ Wellbeing Secretary, said:

“It is vital that police officers are aware of the needs of, and know how to communicate effectively with, people who are deaf or have hearing loss during this challenging period. As officers are advised to wear face masks if social distancing is not an option and coverings become mandatory in a growing number of places, we appreciate how much more difficult it must be for people who rely on facial expressions and lipreading.”

“Working alongside Action on Hearing Loss, we have been able to promote advice on what to bear in mind when interacting with affected members of the public. We are especially keen on encouraging officers to download live speech-to-text apps on their mobile devices and reminding them to spot the signs of any physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability preventing a person from being able to wear a face covering.”

“Our colleagues always want to do their very best to help the communities they serve, so anything that can help them do this even better will be warmly welcomed.”

The charity is continuing to work with the governments across the UK to make sure that the public and others are aware of the new regulations regarding face coverings. This is to prevent people with a reasonable reason for removing their covering from facing negative reactions, or even abuse, from the public. Action on Hearing Loss is calling on the governments, to raise awareness of the challenges faced by deaf people and those with hearing loss when communicating with people wearing face coverings. They are also asking the governments to provide tips to meet communication needs, as well as to provide clarity on, and improve the awareness of the face covering options that are safe and available to make and buy – including clear face coverings.

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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.

[1] Communication Tips

Communication tips for the general public

General communication tips for someone with hearing loss