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Saturday 27 February 2021
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Mandatory masks on public transport 'challenging for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing'

Advocacy group Chime suggested that transparent face-shields should be allowed to be used instead.

Passengers wearing masks enter and exit the Luas
Passengers wearing masks enter and exit the Luas
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

CONCERNS HAVE BEEN raised by an advocacy group for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing over new regulations requiring passengers to wear face coverings while on public transport.

Chime, the National Charity for Deafness and Hearing Loss, has raised its concerns with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), and is seeking to allow transparent face-shields to be used instead of face coverings.

“The use of face masks, in particular, creates significant communication challenges for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing,” said Brendan Lennon, Head of Advocacy at Chime. 

With 300,000 people who are either Deaf or hard of hearing in Ireland according to Chime, there is a significant portion of the population who are facing communication difficulties.

According to Lennon, Chime has had people contacting it saying that they are finding conversations more difficult due to the use of face coverings.

“The use of face masks makes me feel even more isolated because I cannot lip-read, which means I cannot have a conversation with someone. It makes life more difficult so I’m more reluctant to go out and about,” said Betty, a user of Chime services.

The Department of Health issued guidance on the mandatory wearing of face coverings last week, with several exceptions.

One of these exceptions allows people not to wear coverings if they are with someone who has difficulties communicating.

This would cover people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, who use lip reading to communicate with others.

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When asked about this, Lennon said that while Chime is aware of the regulations, there has been a lack of clarity surrounding them, especially for people who are travelling alone.

“The concern for us is that not everyone has someone accompanying them,” said Lennon, underlining how Deaf and hard of hearing people can feel anxious and uncomfortable in a situation where they cannot understand those around them.

“I would urge Nphet and the government to consider face shields as an acceptable face covering,” said Lennon. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly welcomed the response of the public to face coverings being made mandatory but asked that the public consider those who are unable to wear them. 

“It’s also important to remember that some members of the community cannot wear a covering for health reasons, and not to criticise or judge them for this.”

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