Suzie Jones says the new rules about wearing face masks in shops, which comes into force tomorrow, need to be further clarified.
That is because people who have invisible illnesses or do not know British Sign Language (BSL), including those with autism or learning difficulties, and the 11 million deaf people in the UK, rely on non-verbal communication like lip-reading and facial expressions. The 57-year-old adds that some 70% of communication is non-verbal and one in six British people are deaf.
Suzie, an ambassador for the Association of Lip-speakers with Additional Sign, said: "Personally, it scares me because it not only means I will no longer be able to communicate with others because I have a deaf-sounding voice, which will be muffled, but also it means I won’t be able to understand anyone else either. For the many deaf people from all walks of society - those who have acquired it, those who use BSL, those who have become deaf through old age, and those who are deaf-blind - the impact is multiplied."
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Commenting on the possibility that she might be exempt from wearing masks in shops, she added: "It defeats the purpose. Communication is a two-way act. You need to understand the language or message both ways to be able to follow.
"I feel it is a little too confusing about who must wear them and who is exempt given the vast number of disabled people who will be impacted by this."
She says she has not seen any governmental guidance for deaf people in emergency situations, and that funding is needed for plain masks with a see-through window as patterns make it harder to lip-read.
"While it’s protecting others from contagion, it’s affecting the person wearing them. I do hope there is a huge awareness campaign on the production of masks with clear windows within the population - if you can make one, do it; if you can’t find one, shout and let your feelings be known – or some more clarity about the option of face visors," she said.
Suzie, who co-founded a Facebook support group called Pardon, is now waiting to adopt a new hearing dog following the death of her animal last year. She says these companions are vital as they make her disability visible.
"No-one understands deafness unless they’ve been deaf themselves," she added.
"Not all deaf people sign or are totally deaf. Hearing aids don’t make your hearing 'normal'. If it’s distorted, it will still sound distorted but louder - that’s why you should never shout into a hearing aid. And don’t expect a hearing aid to mean that you will be fully understood if the user can’t see your face."