Lipreading Accessibility: Mask on or mask off?

With the spread of Covid- 19 and its variants, the primary defense against Covid-19 was the face mask which has become a public norm today. The facemask has become a barrier to communication for Deaf lipreaders. Read on to find out why and what you can do to make communication easier.

Group of people wearing mask.
Mask on or Mask off: A question of safety.

Before going ahead, let us look at a few of the terms I"ll use throughout the blog.

Lipreading

Lipreading involves watching the lips to determine what speech information you can understand.

Speech reading

Cued speech

The deaf and hard of hearing community mainly relies on lipreading, facial expression, and sign language. The mask has become an obstruction to understanding cued speech. The exclusion of lip movements and facial expressions adds stress and pressure on the Deaf and people with hearing loss to make sure the communication flows smoothly.


Before masks became a norm, if we encountered communication problems, we were able to adjust or come up with solutions. But now, with the facial mask, it is a matter of safety. The question always pops up in my mind when I don't understand the speaker, "Do I let the other person remove the mask for a few minutes so I can find it easier to lipread?" Or "Do I compromise the speaker's wellbeing just because it is convenient to lipread?"


Since I learned to lipread and had a ton of lipreading practice during my childhood with the little residual hearing I have left, I find it difficult since your voice would come out as muffled and unclear. It covers your lips, making it difficult for me to lipread. A face mask usually covers half of your facial expressions, making it difficult to get extra clues to supplement my communication.


I remember the anxiety and the stress I went through as I saw a person with a face mask approaching me. I did not know what they were saying, nor did not know how to handle the situation. The stress and frustration went through the roof when they were unwilling to make accommodations when I asked. I was in low spirits and felt so lonely when I saw other people communicating with their face masks.


To make it easier and give us lip reading access to communicate with the mask on and without having to compromise your safety. There are a few things you can do.

  • Type it out on your phone, or write it on paper.

It may be unusual, but it is a fun way of communicating with one another, especially when you are having trouble understanding each other.

  • Wear a mask with a clear panel for lipreading

Deaf people can now lipread thanks to the introduction of clear panel masks. Shortly after being worn, the clear face mask begins to fog up. It makes lipreading tricky in that situation.

  • Be mindful of the environment.

When speaking to a deaf person, ensure there is minimal to no background noise. Speaking in a public place, such as the road, is not ideal, but talking in an office with background chatter can work to some extent, depending on the person's level of hearing loss.

  • Keep the conversation short and to the point.

In case the deaf person does not identify your lip movements or voice. Make sure to convey vital details while supplementing the conversation by writing on a piece of paper or using social media platforms.


Deaf people, Hard of hearing, and hearing people, here are a few apps I discovered and trialed in different situations. These apps can help ease the communication barrier you face while out in public. For deaf people, it might help relieve some of the pressure you're under and make a difference in the conversation.

For the first two apps, you'll need an internet connection. For the last two, you can use them anywhere with or without Internet access.


While it is frustrating that we no longer have lipreading access, there are still ways for us to overcome the communication barrier. Next time you encounter a deaf person, hopefully, these tips and the apps will come in handy and help make the communication go smoothly.

 

#SriLanka #inclusion #Deaf #hardofhearing #mask #lipreading