Coronavirus: Campaign for everyone to wear clear face masks

Last updated at 08:20
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Why does this boy want people to wear clear face masks?

Sometimes it can be difficult to work out what someone is saying when they're wearing a face mask or covering.

But for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, it can make communicating even more challenging.

Because masks cover people's mouths it can be really hard to see someone's facial expressions and impossible to lip-read.

Eleven-year-old Austin - who's deaf and relies on lip-reading - wants to make things better though.

He's encouraging more people to wear face masks with a clear window so their mouths can be seen.

The campaign for clear masks

Austin said: "I have to lip-read to understand what anyone is saying, and so do a lot of my friends. The masks that cover up mouths are awful.

"I don't like them and they make me feel sad and lonely because I can't understand what anybody is saying. I also find them very scary."

Austin wearing a clear mask
Austin wants more people to wear clear masks, like this one, and visors

It's important for deaf people to see lips and I'd like everyone to wear a see-through mask.

Austin

Austin even wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking for his help to introduce see-through face masks across the country.

A UK government spokesperson said: "We recognise that it's a challenging time for everyone, particularly those that have hearing difficulties and as such we have provided guidance specifically designed to make life easier for those who are finding life more difficult."

Austin's mum Justine said if at least key workers, such as doctors and nurses have them, that would "make a world of difference".

woman wearing mask with clear windowGetty Images
Masks can have clear windows like this one designed by Anissa Mekrabech - she started a campaign in France to develop a transparent mask
Who's backing Austin's campaign?

Around 12 million people in the UK are thought to have hearing loss, so many think that Austin's idea could make a big difference to lots of people.

For months, nine UK charities, including the National Deaf Children's Society and the British Deaf Association, have been encouraging Public Health England and NHS England to commission transparent face masks that will stop those with hearing loss feeling isolated.

Sarah White, Head of Policy and Campaigns at national charity Sense, said that while clear masks can still present a challenge to some people "it certainly is a great first step".

Sally Etchells, from the National Deaf Children's Society, added: "If face masks become widespread and none of them are transparent, deaf people will face months of misery as they struggle to understand what's being said to them, putting them at an even higher risk of isolation and loneliness at a critical time."

Shoppers wearing face masksGetty Images
More people are wearing face masks and coverings to help stop the spread of coronavirus, but it can make communicating difficult for deaf people
What's being done to help?

Transparent face masks have slowly started to become more available, but they still aren't as widely accessible as other face coverings that people are buying or making at home.

Face masks can especially be a problem for deaf people when they're in hospital - they can mean that it's hard to understand what doctors and nurses are saying due to the medical protection masks being worn.

Now, the government has said that 250,000 clear face masks will be given out to frontline NHS and social care workers across the UK.

Minister for Care, Helen Whately, said more masks could be given out in the future: "If this proves a success I look forward to increasing the supply to make sure whenever a clear mask is needed, there is one available."

Action on Hearing Loss said it has launched a Covid-19 emergency appeal to provide hospitals with equipment to help make communication for patients and staff with hearing loss easier, as well as a British Sign Language (BSL) coronavirus information service.

Advice for communicating with deaf people while wearing a face mask
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Beccy Forrow - Campaigner at the National Deaf Children's Society - has some top tips

Everyone can do their bit to help make communicating during the pandemic easier for deaf people.

For example, wearing a clear face mask, or simply being aware that across the UK, people don't have to wear a mask if they are speaking to, or helping someone, who relies on lip-reading and facial expressions.

What do you think of Austin's campaign? Do you think everyone should try and wear a clear face mask? Let us know by commenting below.

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