Face masks – a (very) sensitive issue

When schools reopened on March 8th, students had mixed feelings after so long at home. I had become used to staying home; I enjoyed my calm routine and the company of my Hearing Dog, Varley. When I learnt that my school would open, I felt nervous about the safety and the change in routine. But the thing I dreaded the most was the face masks. The Government advised using face masks in class but gave little advice on supporting Deaf students like me.

Before Christmas, I only needed to wear a mask when walking around the school. It was manageable for me and I felt safe. Right now, I feel more stressed as I have to wear a mask all day. Luckily, I have a fantastic school with a new Deaf resource base and the teachers had good Deaf awareness training, they remove their masks while teaching which helps. Also, my Teachers of the Deaf and BSL interpreters remove their masks when supporting me in lessons so I can read facial expression.

Despite this, face masks will have negative consequences. I find it exhausting as I’m having to concentrate so much harder in school. As a BSL user it’s always been hard to socialise in school but with masks it’s frustrating and almost impossible. And it doesn’t help a lot because I wear glasses, having them steamed up is irritating and it’s really distracting in lessons. Also, it can get annoying if the mask keeps making you feel hot or itchy (it’s not nice to be uncomfortable for 7 hours in school). I know the masks are there to keep me safe from the virus, but more actions could be taken to help deaf children, as many do not have the same deaf awareness in their schools.

National Deaf Children Society (NDCS) started a legal challenge (Face coverings in classrooms – legal update (England) (ndcs.org.uk)) to persuade the Government to improve the guidelines on supporting Deaf students. The Government currently recommends that schools should be “sensitive” to Deaf children, but how will that help? I think this “advice” is vague and toothless and it feels like the Government has forgotten about deaf children. The NDCS supports the idea of clear masks and I think it will be beneficial if a teacher feels safer wearing a mask in a lesson. Students should be encouraged to use clear masks too, as well as learning basic BSL and Deaf awareness so they can communicate smoothly with Deaf students instead of having a confusing conversation. If the NDCS is successful, then I hope that the situation will be better for Deaf learners. You can view more about the impact of masks through this link – their website has some good advice and why not also learn some BSL? It will be easier to communicate with Deaf friends and you might have fun learning too!

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