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Clear Mask Deal Leaves Questions Unanswered Says Deaf Charity

Words by Smiley Team


The UK Government’s announcement on the procurement of transparent face masks misses out “essential details”, a leading deaf charity Deaf has warned.

Deaf Action’s ‘Clear Masks For All’ campaign calls for clear masks to be made available in educational and medical settings for all those who need them.

Edinburgh-based charity Deaf Action works with people who are Deaf BSL users, deafened, deafblind and hard of hearing. In Scotland, over 1 million people are estimated to be living with some degree of hearing loss.

The Department for Health and Social Care confirmed that 250,000 ClearMasks will be delivered to NHS and social care workers to benefit people who rely on lipreading when communicating.

In contrast to ‘opaque’ masks, the transparent versions contain a plastic window, which allows for lipreading to take place.

Although Edinburgh based charity Deaf Action has welcomed the news, the organisation has expressed concern over the Government’s long- term plan for clear masks, with the ClearMask design being a single-use product, meaning that not only is the supply currently limited but there are issues surrounding sustainability, too.

The Department for Health and Social Care said they will continue to work with providers on future orders of the product “based on demand".

The Government have said the procurement applies to the whole of the UK and that they are working with the devolved administrations on their share of the masks.

Through their ‘Clear Masks For All’ campaign, Deaf Action want clear, transparent masks to be made available in medical settings, as well as in education and to members of the public who need them.

“While we appreciate the UK Government taking this long overdue decision, this is only the first step in ensuring deaf people don’t miss out on everyday conversations" commented Phillip Gerrard, CEO at Deaf Action.

“With only 250,000 single-use ClearMasks being made available to NHS and social care teams, we have serious concerns over the long- term sustainability of this Government plan, and how far this will go to support deaf people across the UK – including Scotland.

“The UK Government must urgently provide further clarity around this deal, so we can work to tackle the preventable barriers and isolation deaf people are experiencing during this crisis.”

Liam O'Dell, Campaign Lead notes that whilst Deaf Action appreciate that people are able to remove their masks to provide communication if needed without breaking the rules, this means people are forced to remove a mask that is needed there for protection.

"Even though the Scottish Government has said that you can still have a socially distanced conversation without masks but there is still a concern about if someone coughs or sneezes or if they are shouting a bit louder as people do that sometimes thinking it helps deaf people.

"People are fine to use the exemption, but at Deaf Action we would rather that people adopt a solution that is both clear and safe in terms of communication and that is the transparent masks, because removing masks altogether removes some element of the protection."

Alongside clear masks, the charity also wants to see a Government campaign aimed at raising deaf awareness during this pandemic, including using gestures and learning basic sign language to remove communication barriers.

Deaf Action is continuing to call on members of the public to raise this issue with their local MSP, using the email template available on their website.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs