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Face masks and the Deaf

by Michael Ford last modified 31 Jul, 2020 05:30 PM

Our thanks to our friends at Premier News for this article endorsed by our Chaplain to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Revd Neil Robinson.

As masks become compulsory in shops in England, deaf people are warning that communication will be difficult.

Action on Hearing Loss is advising the general public to make sure they face the person they are speaking to and speak clearly and have also recommend speech-to-text apps, while the group Deaf Connect have produced cards which deaf people can carry round that ask people to remove their mask when they are speaking to them.

Janice Silo from Signs of God, a Christian charity that promotes the use of British Sign Language in Christian settings, spoke to Premier through interpreter Jill Behenner about how she feels about the new rule and how Christians can help:

"It's the bane of our lives to be honest. I went to hospital just for a few days recently and everyone I met, all the medical staff, had masks on, which is right. I was squinting, trying to read their lips and then I realised actually I can't read their lips!

"So they would pull it down and then they'd put it up again and then the next person would pull it down and put it up again and it was very, very confusing."

She gave this advice for when people are in shops or banks:

"Don't jump into thinking, 'Oh, the person is ignoring me'. Or 'they don't have any respect for me' or 'they don't have any respect for the help of others' if they ask you to take your mask off. Just wait and see how people react, how they interact with each other.

"It's about patience really, that's the biggest thing. You can write stuff down as well - that's fine. Sometimes we ask people to write things and they behave as if writing something down is beneath them. Like they'd never heard of paper and pencil before! But writing stuff down is really useful. And also, when Coronavirus is finished and we don't have to wear masks anymore, please continue all the stuff you've been doing, being patient, writing stuff down."

Janice explained that it would even benefit businesses if they went a step further:

"Maybe you've not thought of it before, but you could learn some sign language - that would be helpful, especially in shops to welcome deaf people in. You'd be surprised, if you knew some sign language, as soon as we discover, for example, a hairdresser who can sign we pass that information around the community and then deaf people flock to that business."

She said that despite her own sadness at not seeing her daughters and the devastation of coronavirus, there had been some positives:

"For the first time in our lives, through lockdown we've had choice because there's been so much online with subtitles, with interpreters, church through Zoom... things like New Wine and Spring Harvest have had interpreters on their online festivals and Greenbelt will do the same. I haven't been to church physically since March but I've had loads of choice to worship online so that's been great, I felt welcome, I felt included, I felt loved.

"And I'm reflecting much more on the Bible, which is has been great."

Finally, she encouraged Christians to be hold onto a much appreciated biblical characteristic:

"Being a Christian is a challenge to our patience. It's a good challenge, we have to be patient with each other."

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