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The trouble with face masks

Published Date: 19 Nov 2020

Mum with two sons

I remember the feeling of dread when it was announced we would now have to wear face masks and rumours started circulating that this would be in schools too. My heart broke for my severely deaf 5-year-old son, who already struggles with communication. His nursery were quick to reassure me that they wouldn't be using them in their setting, but a visor would be used at the gate when children are dropped off and collected. Isaac quickly adapted to this new part of nursery and to the fact that people in the street wore masks and visors.

Now, the use of masks is more common than ever and my own use of them is increasing too. Isaac does hear my voice if I’m wearing a mask, he’s close by and there’s very little background noise, but if there’s any background noise he struggles to hear me and I’ve had to remove my mask on a number of occasions in order for him to understand me or others.

Our first tough encounter with masks was at audiology for Isaac's hearing test and mould appointment. The audiologist, assistant and I all had masks on and, whilst he could follow the conversation with his hearing aids in, as soon as his aids were removed he had no access to it. Isaac signs a little but mainly relies on lip-reading when his aids are out. The audiologist then proceeded to give Isaac verbal instructions on how to complete the test and he quickly became very frustrated. I had to remove my mask in order to give Isaac the instructions he needed. I was left wondering why in audiology they insist on full medical masks when they’re spending the entire day communicating with people who have hearing loss? Okay, it’s probably cost related, as visors or masks with screens in must be more expensive than the medical disposable ones they were wearing. But I feel it’s unacceptable when so many people they’re seeing in one day rely so heavily on lip-reading.

Another incident was in soft play when Isaac was being given instructions across a very noisy room by a member of staff wearing a full face mask. He didn’t hear or understand what was being asked of him and the member of staff quickly became frustrated. I struggled myself to follow the instructions in that environment, I can only imagine how Isaac felt! I removed my mask and explained to the member of staff that Isaac was deaf, couldn’t hear what he was saying, and was unable to lip-read due to his mask. His face said it all, he apologised and acknowledged the difficulty he would have.

Personally, I struggle almost daily when wearing masks and communicating with others and I have no hearing loss. If anything, the use of masks has made me so much more aware of how much we rely on lip-reading as hearing adults, let alone children or adults who have a hearing loss. We will never live in a world where visors or clear masks will be worn by all, so for now it’s just about me being extra mindful to make sure Isaac doesn’t miss out on any communication and has access to conversations either with or without masks.


Emma is mum to Isaac (8), who has a severe hearing loss and wears hearing aids. She also has Ethan (3), who is hearing.