From Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Victorians in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire must wear a face mask in public under a new law aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
For many people, wearing a mask or face covering when outside their home will simply be an inconvenience.
But for those with profound hearing loss – like Melbourne woman Adrika Sri Bawan – this latest rule is going to be a huge communication barrier.
That’s because face masks make it much harder to read facial expressions, which she says is “critical” for those with a hearing loss.
“If I want to ask a question, the cashier might be wearing a mask and they want to have a conversation … but I don’t understand what they’re saying,” Ms Sri Bawan told The New Daily.
“(The new rule) definitely made me feel worried. I felt a little bit stressed and overwhelmed.
“And it’s not only me. A lot of people with hearing loss in this time, we’re in isolation – and this adds a further dimension to that isolation.”
The legislation announced on Sunday will apply to anyone aged over 12 who is leaving home for one of four reasons:
- Shopping for food and supplies
- Care and caregiving
- Exercise (excluding running or exercise where it’s not practical), and
- Study and work, if you cannot do it from home.
Those who refuse to wear a mask could be slapped with a $200 fine.
The latest measure came after Victoria recorded 363 fresh COVID-19 cases and three more deaths – two men and a woman, aged in their 90s.
But it’s not just losing the ability to lip-read that will make life harder for some people with poor hearing.
Mandatory social distancing rules only add to the challenge.
“Masks already hamper speech clarity, reducing speech volume by about 12 decibels,” Ms Sri Bawan said.
“Standing 1.5 metres apart just makes this even more difficult.”
Despite the difficulty that mandatory face masks will bring to deaf people, Ms Sri Bawan said she supported the public health measure.
“Everyone has their own health issues, and I understand that, but we all have to work together to combat this pandemic,” she said.
“I just want to raise awareness and encourage people to have patience and understanding.”
How can you help people who have a hearing loss manage face masks?
“Please be conscientious and patient if you’re wearing a mask,” Ms Sri Bawan said.
“If one asks you to repeat, please be mindful that person may have a hearing loss and may not wish to disclose it.”
Important tips when communicating with a mask
- Do not yell, but talk a little louder
- Articulate your words rather than mumble
- Slow down, don’t talk too fast
- Use your hands and your body language
- Move to a quiet place if you can, and
- Use alternative communication methods, such as text if required.