Deaf children are facing significant difficulties during the pandemic because they are unable to lip-read those who are wearing masks. This is a particular problem in schools, where one in four deaf children in the UK are currently being taught by teachers wearing face coverings.

According to the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), millions of deaf people face ‘months of misery’ without being able to understand what’s being said to them, putting them at a higher risk of loneliness at a crucial time.

NDCS chief executive, Susan Daniels, says on the charity’s website: “Transparent face masks would make a monumental difference to deaf people’s lives.” Several organisations, led by the NDCS, have written to Public Health England urging it to work with them to commission transparent face masks.

Miranda, a former trainer at a non-profit organisation that facilitates phone communications for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Florida (now living in London), said the problem was worldwide. She told This is Local London: “Masks can really affect communication for deaf and hard-of-heading people. Opaque masks make lip-reading difficult, and facial expressions are very important grammatical tools in sign language. Whether it’s deaf students or hard-of-hearing older people, we need to find ways to stay safe, yet facilitate communication.”  She added that she is also worried about the socialisation of babies and toddlers, as facial expressions and interactions with neighbours and strangers are crucial in child development.

Some young adults, struggling with hearing loss, have taken to social media to air their frustrations. Eighteen-year-old Jade (@jadesunshine02), who has more than a quarter of a million followers on social media platform TikTok, has made several videos showing the impact of not being able to have two-way conversations due to not understanding what others are saying beneath their face coverings. In one of these videos, she acts out somebody asking her why she no longer talks to anyone in public. In response, she lip syncs to song lyrics ‘I am lost’, adding that she is at sea because she is no longer able to read lips through masks.

Other healthcare sectors are also affected by these issues. Pamela, a psychotherapist at independent mental healthcare company, The Priory, says, “We have been learning to be even more explicit with patients during face-to-face therapy, such as saying, ‘I am smiling beneath this mask’.”