Clear face mask backing needed to support UK's deaf community

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​Not for profit Business Disability Forum has called on government to recommend the use of clear face coverings and help the 12 million people in the UK who are deaf or living with hearing loss.

Starting today, 24 July, the use of face masks will be mandatory across all shops in the UK.

Yet for the majority of the nation’s D/deaf population, this is set to cause communication difficulties as most rely on visual clues, such as lip reading and facial expressions, to communicate.

Business Disability Forum’s research suggested that 90% of businesses would recommend the use of clear panel face coverings to their employees, customers and clients.

Yet it found without government guidance, employers, and particularly those in HR who are making return to work plans, will find it difficult to introduce them in the workplace.

“Cloth face coverings are creating a significant communication barrier for lip readers and for the huge number of people who may be unaware that they rely on lip reading to support their hearing,” said Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum.

“Our members have told us that they want to remove this barrier for their employees, customers and clients, but to do so safely, they need swift action from the government.”

As research from NHS England has shown, 74% people who have hearing loss already feel that their employment opportunities are limited due to their disability.

Two-thirds (63%) of businesses asked by Business Disability Forum however said they would be prepared to make the use of clear face coverings compulsory if they had the right approval, therefore supporting the D/deaf community.

"As we all navigate this uncharted and fast moving area, policy makers must be alert to the unintended consequences of their decisions,” Lightfoot told HR magazine.

“Disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The government must ensure that measures intended to protect people do not result in further isolation for disabled people.

“We urge government to take the widest and most inclusive view when legislating in this space and to commit to raising awareness amongst the general public of the impact of different face covering solutions."

In addition to the use of clear face masks Clare Vale, managing director of Sign Solutions, said that businesses must also consider other means of communication for their D/deaf or hard of hearing employees. Speaking to HR magazine she said: "Communicating in Sign Language via a video or in person interpreter is [also] a crucial tool that businesses and HR teams should implement to help d/Deaf BSL speakers navigate the return to work.

"It is vital they can fully understand what is being said, and often an interpreter is the only way to guarantee equal access to vital information and communication in the workplace.”

Business Disability Forum’s 300+ members employ an estimated 20% of the UK workforce. In its research into the recommendation of clear face coverings it received the response of more than 30 of its membership from public, private and third sectors.

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