Action on Hearing Loss, the UK’s leading charity for those affected by deafness or hearing loss, has teamed up with Debenhams during National Lipreading Week (14-21 September) to highlight the need for retailers and the general public to be more deaf aware.
The charity has placed face masks on mannequins in Debenhams’ flagship store windows on Oxford Street alongside ‘live’ mannequins. The face masks carry the slogan “Read my lips #BeDeafAware” to highlight the communication barriers of face coverings for anyone who relies on lipreading. The mask aims to encourage the public to be aware of face covering exemptions and to raise awareness of how to communicate with people who have hearing loss or deafness.
With face coverings now mandatory in all shops, they are having a huge impact on the deaf, hearing loss and tinnitus communities who rely on lipreading. Action on Hearing Loss is concerned that face covers are a communication barrier for 12 million people in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss, resulting in many feeling even more isolated and scared at an already difficult time. To tackle this new issue, the charity has designed some communication tips  for the public and have teamed up with high street retailer Debenhams to help promote these.
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.
Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at Action on Hearing Loss 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. Where face coverings are worn and lipreading isn’t possible then people 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 such as piped music. If this still proves difficult then people should be prepared to write information down for those with hearing loss.”
Jacqui Press, a Trustee for Action on Hearing Loss who has hearing loss, and is and one of the UK’s leading experts in lipreading added:
“With the use of face coverings, many people are realising how much they rely on lipreading and are becoming aware of problems with their hearing for the first time. The general public need to be more understanding of those in society that will be struggling with masks. There are exemptions for not wearing a face covering include travelling with, or providing assistance to someone who relies on lipreading to communicate. Today we are trying to help the public understand this and give them tips on how to make the situation better for everyone.”
A spokesperson from Debenhams said:
“The safety and comfort of all our customers and colleagues is of paramount importance. We are closely following government guidelines and encouraging all of our customers to follow them, whilst recognising there are exceptions to the requirements on face coverings. We have provided our colleagues with a face visor or mask to help keep each other safe, and we will be encouraging them to use these communication tips, to help them communicate as clearly as possible and make sure we can support our customers with hearing loss.”
Samantha Baines, an award-winning comedian, actor, hearing aid wearer and Action on Hearing Loss Ambassador, who took part in the event as one of the ‘live’ mannequins, added:
“This isn’t just about masks, this is about changing behaviours. It’s so important that everyone understands how isolating it can be to leave your house and not be able to understand anyone. Even buying a loaf of bread becomes a huge trial. There are very simple ways to be deaf aware that can make a huge impact.”
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Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) is the national charity helping people confronting 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.
 Communication Tips