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Keep it Clear – Survey results on your experience of face masks

Published Date: 23 Sep 2020
Photo: Over 800 families of deaf children shared their thoughts about face masks

This summer we reached out to you to ask about your experiences with face masks. Overwhelmingly, you told us that face masks are causing huge barriers to communication. Masks are also having a negative impact on your child’s confidence and independence.

Over 800 families of deaf children shared their thoughts. Two thirds of parents said that their child finds it hard to communicate with someone who is wearing a mask. Face masks muffle speech, obscure facial expressions and emotions, and make lip-reading impossible.

Deaf children and young people are nervous that they won’t understand people who wear a mask. They now often rely on communication support from friends or family. Some deaf young people have become anxious about going out by themselves. Or, in some cases, don’t want to go out alone at all. This is affecting young people who before, were independent and confident communicators.  

“My daughter (19) is struggling. She relies heavily on lip-reading and does not know British Sign language. These first few interactions have knocked her confidence. She is already feeling anxious about interactions in future. She is relying on others to speak for her.”

– Parent of a deaf child

Families want more people to use clear face masks. Nine out of ten parents confirmed that clear masks can make a huge difference for their deaf child.  This is especially important for audiology and other health appointments. Clear masks make it easier to understand an audiologist, or other health worker. For young children, clear masks also feel friendlier.

Clear face masks would be helpful in public places too. Face masks are mandatory on public transport and shops. This is making some deaf young people feel anxious about travelling on their own. This includes travelling to school on a bus or train – something that is worrying lots of parents. The majority of parents want staff on public transport, and in shops, to use clear masks or visors. Parents feel that this would reduce their child's anxiety about going out.

Families told us that deaf awareness is as important as clear masks. This is true for all public transport and public places. In fact, almost 90% of families would be much more likely to visit a particular place if staff were deaf aware. This is true for cinemas, restaurants and, supermarkets and shops.

Parents are very concerned about their children returning to school. Since we issued the survey, UK Government guidance has changed. The guidance now requires face coverings in communal areas in secondary schools. Or, allows secondary schools to make this a rule. But face masks or coverings are not recommended or necessary in classrooms.

There has been much discussion in the media about this issue. Parents reported that this makes them worry about a possible change to the guidance. Wearing face masks in the classroom will have a huge impact on deaf children. Parents worry that their child will miss out on information. This can make their child feel excluded and fall behind in their education.

Wearing masks in communal areas is also worrying parents. It's already more difficult for deaf children to join in conversations with friends. Especially in noisy places, corridors, or in the playground. Wearing face masks during break times would make communication almost impossible. This could have a negative impact on deaf children's mental health and wellbeing.

This is an even bigger issue for deaf children who are starting a new school or college in September. Face masks could have a big impact on their ability to meet, and communicate with, new friends.

“This would be very difficult for my son (11) and make social interaction challenging. He is starting secondary school in September. This would impact his ability to form new friendships. Masks would make him feel isolated.”

– Parent of a deaf child.

Parents told us that they are keen to take action about face masks. Eight out of ten parents said they would challenge their child's school or college about face masks, if needed.

There is lots of information on our website about returning to school. This includes a checklist of questions that you can use to speak to your child’s school. You can also take a look at our infographic which summarises the checklist.

We have also written some 'open letters' that you can share with your child’s school or college. There are different versions of this letter, if you live in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales (also available in Welsh).

There is more detailed guidance for schools too. This is about things they need to think about when deaf children return to school. (Also available in Welsh.) You may wish to share this with your child’s school or Teacher of the Deaf.

Our coronavirus blog has more information about current government guidance on face masks.

Lindsey Valkenborgs

Campaigns Officer
Policy and Campaigns team