Deaf people are used to bridging the communication gap with non-signers, using numerous strategies to
understand and be understood.
This new era of mask-wearing poses a challenge for Deaf people, as many of us rely heavily on lip-reading to
Lip reading combines observations of a person’s mouth movements with cues taken from the topic at hand.
For many Deaf people, masks have made it harder to read lips and faces, which can be an isolating experience.
Here are a few tips and strategies for communicating with Deaf people more effectively in a masked world.
GOING MASK OFF
Firstly, it’s okay to remove your mask to communicate with a Deaf person or someone who is Hard of Hearing.
Government guidance says you don’t need to wear a mask if you “need to communicate with someone who is Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deafblind or has a disability which makes it hard to have effective communication.”
It’s helpful to ask the person you’re speaking to what their preferred method of communication is and do your best to accommodate them.
BRIDGING THE GAP
If you’re not comfortable taking your mask off, that’s okay. There are lots of other ways to communicate.
Why not try…
- Using visual cues to signal someone and get their attention, especially if it appears that they did not hear you the first time.
- Writing out what you want to communicate using pen and paper or the notes app on your phone.
- Downloading a text-to-speech app. Microsoft, Apple and Google all have their own. This is a really useful way to carry out short conversations.
- Using body language. Try nodding or shaking your head, gesturing, or pointing. Even facial expressions around your eyes can convey more than you think.
- Using sign language. You can fingerspell words even if all you know is the alphabet.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ALL
Not everyone identifies as Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Some people may not feel comfortable announcing their access needs, even if they’re finding it difficult to communicate.
When you’re at work, you should keep an eye out to see if anyone seems to be finding it hard to follow the flow of conversation.
Why not have a chat with your team and come up with some ideas for communicating with each other
more easily while you’re wearing masks?
If you’ve got a team meeting coming up, think about printing out relevant materials, action points or agenda items to make your meetings more accessible for everyone.
If you’re keen to learn New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), Learn NZSL has a free online course, while Teach Sign has plenty of info and resources available. The NZSL Dictionary is also available online.