More Than 90% of Deaf Community Struggled After Initiation of Mask Mandate During COVID-19 Pandemic

These effects were particularly pronounced among those who sign or who are profoundly deaf, whose feelings of disconnect from society had a significantly detrimental impact on their wellbeing.

Mandatory mask wearing caused communication challenges for more than 90% of the deaf community during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study from the University of Essex. The study further revealed that 76% of missed important information and 59% felt isolated from society from having their faces covered.

Because masks prevent reading lips and seeing facial expressions and cues, communicating with masks is a major challenge, particularly among the population over 55 years of age who became deaf later in life.

These effects were particularly pronounced among those who sign or who are profoundly deaf, whose feelings of disconnect from society had a significantly detrimental impact on their wellbeing.

Eva Gutierrez-Sigut, MD, led a team of deaf and hearing researchers in creating a survey that was accessible in all different sign languages. Approximately 400 people were surveyed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the deaf community with the intent to help shape public policy in health emergencies.

"Mask mandates were vital in fighting the spread of the deadly coronavirus but meant some of our most vulnerable communities were left isolated. The pandemic lockdowns were hard for everyone but even more so for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. This research exposes the unexpected consequences policies can have in a fast-moving international emergency and how people can fall through the cracks,” Gutierrez-Sigut said in a press release. "If the world is gripped by a pandemic again governments need to do more to be inclusive and engage with communities to find out what they need to thrive and survive."

The researchers also discovered how cultural differences and mask wearing affected comprehension and understanding, with the British population experiencing more difficulties than the Spanish population.

The investigators did not find a single uniform approach to manage mask wearing among the deaf or hard-of-hearing communities because signing, speech reading, and other communication methods affect comprehension in combination with levels of deafness, whether they can use sign language, and when their hearing loss began. The researchers found that a clear mask with the mouth and lower face visible was the preferred option for many individuals surveyed.

"Most deaf people we spoke to agreed these masks made a real difference and made everything from a trip to the shops to a vital doctor's appointment easier. It is worth remembering though that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for these communities. The deaf and hard-of-hearing are not a homogenous group and have different needs,” Gutierrez-Sigut said in a press release.

She added that more needs to be done to engage with this community in public safety efforts.

"To do this we made a real effort to create an accessible study using sign language to reach them,” she said in a press release. “We are so thankful deaf and hard of hearing shared their experiences and we hope we can make their voices heard and seen."

REFERENCE

Masks saw more than 90 percent of deaf people struggle to communicate during pandemic, study finds. ScienceDaily. October 3, 2022. Accessed October 5, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221003132752.htm

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