Wednesday 6 May 2020

Deaf Girly and the (Covid-19) face masks

There's been a lot in the news and on social media recently addressing the issues around face masks and deaf people being able to lipread. Poorna Bell wrote this piece for the iPaper about how deaf people are being affected by the Coronavirus crisis.

I'll admit, this subject scares me so much, I've not really wanted to talk about it. Or think about it actually.

One of my biggest fears is ending up in hospital and being surrounded by masked people and having no clue what is going on. Especially if I'm in hospital with COVID-19 because I know I also won't have any of the family support I rely on to help me hear in tricky situations.

On the occasions that this thought has infiltrated my brain, I've gone down a rabbit hole not only of future what if's, but also of looking back and thinking about how difficult it would have been giving birth eight months ago if my midwife had been wearing a mask. Those instructions are literally life saving - in my case they were anyway. Had I not been able to lipread my third and final midwife, who had the demeanour of a soccer mom after two litres of strong coffee, I'm not sure my birth experience would have been the same - but that's a whole other blog.

I've seen the amazing suggestions for clear sections on face masks to allow for lipreading and hope that these one day become commonplace. But it doesn't take away from the fact that right now, they are not.

This week, we had a Tesco deliver order. FJM works very long hours and this coupled with a small baby makes supermarket trips in this current climate very very difficult. So when I was lucky enough to get delivery slot, I was thrilled. As I questioned whether I was suitable to claim that slot, I thought 'Yes, I am.'

All the staff in shops right now have masks on. It makes it completely impossible to understand them. Double this with the stress of actually going to the shops, which takes my deafness up a notch to 'no idea what's going on at all' and I'm just not ready for that level of deafness confrontation for the sake of a loaf of bread and some milk.

Indeed, the only time I have ventured out shopping since lockdown began, my card wouldn't work and I couldn't understand the masked shopkeeper. I was close to tears, trying to explain my deafness to him and staring at my bags of vegetables and fruit for FFB's meals. Was this my new reality?

In the end, a lady behind me lifted her mask up and translated for me. The shopkeeper was telling me to take my shopping and come back and pay him another time. When I understood what he was telling me to do, I really did cry. And return a week later, my cash in an envelope so that he could leave it to one side for a time if he wanted to ensure it was safe to open.

So as I was saying, this week, our Tesco delivery came and the lovely driver came bounding up towards the front door chatting away with his trolley of goods - mainly fruit, veg and fish for FFB's meals. I'm trying to get FFB excited about new foods. But right now he's all about the half blueberries and working on his pincer grip.

But I didn't understand a word of what the delivery driver was saying because he had a face mask on. I was so sad because I didn't want to seem rude or disinterested. I wanted him to know how grateful I was for a much-coveted delivery slot. I explained that I was deaf and needed to lipread and he kept talking, which I find people often do - perhaps because they don't want to appear rude by literally shutting up straight away, or perhaps because he didn't quite believe me. I'm not sure...

But it was very winding, solar plexus winding as it hit me...

This is my new reality.

Now, I know in the grand scheme of things, this is really not something anyone else is going to be bothered about. But as I lay awake in bed last night, watching FFB self settle on the monitor, reassured that he didn't need me, I thought back to how hard I've worked to understand the world around me, how long it's taken me to feel comfortable in shops, restaurants, hairdressers, airports and other public places when I can't hear. The little hacks I've created to enable me to get by.

In a post COVID-19 world, that'll all be gone. I'm going to have to create new ways of coping with a masked world, where facial expressions and lip patterns are hidden. It scares me.

A masked world scares me. And right now, there's no way around this.

And it sucks.

However, as it's Deaf Awareness Week this week, I have one request. Do not forget D/deaf people if we live in this new masked world. Keep them in the forefront of your mind as you go through your daily life with your face and lips concealed. And if anyone has any other brilliant inventions to help make it easier for us to navigate the barriers we are facing in what is already a very scary situation, then I am all ears... kinda!

Happy Wednesday peeps!


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