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Charity calls on Scottish Government to issue clear guidance on face coverings

15 June 2020

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to provide clear guidance on the use of face coverings for the general public in enclosed spaces and on public transport, due to the huge impact this is having on hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland who are deaf or have hearing loss.

The Scottish Government’s Phase 1 route map guidance on face coverings provides no detail on any exemptions to wearing face coverings other than children under the age of two years. At the covid-19 media briefing on 4th June, the First Minister stated that exemptions from wearing face coverings will exist for some people due to health reasons, for example asthma, but provided no further detail on who is exempt.

The Scottish Government’s guidance must take account of the needs of the hearing loss and deaf community who rely on lip-reading to communicate. It is vital that exceptions also apply to those communicating with those with disabilities.

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 exceedingly difficult to distinguish. This can lead to a breakdown in communication.

One of our supporters said:

“I can’t communicate with staff or prove I am exempt as I have an invisible disability, but what about the independence we are losing by having to rely on hearing friends and family to do our shopping for us? What about the jobs we could lose or struggle with because we can’t communicate with our colleagues? I can’t lip read through a mask. Even sound through a Perspex screen is difficult. It is affecting my mental health and I fear for other deaf people.”

Teri Devine, Director of Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, said:

“As hearing loss is a hidden disability, many people from our community have expressed fear that they will face negative reactions when not wearing face coverings, and sadly some have already experienced this. 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 need clearer guidance on face coverings for the public, including who is exempt from wearing them, in enclosed public spaces and on public transport.”

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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.

The Scottish Government’s guidance on face coverings can be read here

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