Clear communication requires clear masks

One in 6 Australians experience hearing conditions. That’s over 4 million Aussies (or over 1 million Victorians) who are our parents, friends, partners, children, siblings and colleagues.

As COVID-19 infection numbers continue to climb, and the need to wear face masks will remain, we are calling on the Victorian Government to ensure accessible face masks are developed and available for all, not just those who are hearing-impaired.

While face masks help to prevent the virus spreading, covering our faces completely (mainly the mouth area) has a detrimental effect on how some of us communicate with each other.

For the 4 million Aussies who are Deaf or have some form of hearing conditions, face masks block visual cues like lip-reading and facial expressions that they rely on to communicate. Soundfair welcomes all measures that go to protecting the health of Victorians – including wearing face masks out and about. As the government’s number one priority remains the safety of Victorians, this should include the safety of hearing-impaired Victorians.

Inaccessible face masks make communicating impossible and potentially unsafe – the impact on the Deaf and hearing-impaired community is vast and could have deadly consequences.

While some of us are struggling with isolation during the current COVID-19 lockdown, the truth is, people who live with a hearing condition experience social isolation every day.

Our message is: clear communication requires clear masks.

Two people with hearing conditions told us the following:

“The health and safety of our community is so important, but just the other day I went to pick up medication from my local pharmacy and I couldn’t understand what the pharmacist was saying… I could have easily walked away with the wrong medication. I felt anxious and wanted to leave, even without my medication. There was a big line of people queuing up behind me and I could feel their impatience. There has to be a better way for people with hearing conditions to understand what medical practitioners are saying. This is about our health too!” – Jess, 24

“Ever since the Victorian Government recommended we wear protective face masks, I haven’t felt comfortable leaving the house. I have an accessible face mask from Soundfair, but most people don’t. Trying to understand what someone is saying at the shops can be really hard and frustrating. It feels like being thrown into another country without being able to speak the language, but I’m just down at the local shops trying to buy groceries… Something has to change, and fast.” – Aaron, 52

As a start – Soundfair has developed an interim solution – a mask prototype that can decrease particle transmission for wearers while maintaining communication accessibility. While this prototype does not currently meet the Victorian Government health ecommendations, it is the only available option at present (image below).

We want to partner with the Victorian Government to ensure it complies with the current mask standards, particularly for healthcare workers. We are committed to working with all levels of government to bring about a solution, ensuring vulnerable members of our community can understand information, give informed consent and feel comfortable and confident when conducting essential tasks.

A woman is wearing an accessible protective face mask prototype that has been developed by Soundfair. The mask has a clear window around the mouth and nose area, and is purple. It has elastic loops that go behind the woman’s ears. She has red hair, is wearing glasses and a grey jumper.
Image description: A woman is wearing an accessible protective face mask prototype that has been developed by Soundfair. The mask has a clear window around the mouth and nose area, and is purple. It has elastic loops that go behind the woman’s ears. She has red hair, is wearing glasses and a grey jumper.