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Call for clear masks to improve communications during Covid-19 outbreak

Call for clear masks to improve communications during Covid-19 outbreak
27th May 2020 Ian Streets

Charities working with people who have hearing impairments are urging the NHS to help to improve communication during the coronavirus pandemic by commissioning a new design of face masks.
Clear masks, which were featured in the media recently after being produced by a start-up business in Scotland, have been welcomed by people who rely on lip-reading to understand what someone is saying.
But the BBC reported there are no approved manufacturers in the UK and supplies from overseas are scarce, with the only company in the US to have secured Food and Drug Administration approval overwhelmed by its domestic demand.
The BBC quoted a Surrey-based paediatric registrar who is deaf saying that standard face masks prevent her from taking patients’ histories verbally. She also says she feels isolated at work because she is not able to speak to her colleagues and is now working with a product designer to try to come up with a mask that the NHS could use widely.
However even once a design and a manufacturer are found, this could take time to roll out and the BBC reports that eight charities have written to NHS bosses calling for clear masks to be commissioned, warning of “potentially dangerous situations” arising from communication problems.
The Edinburgh Evening News highlighted one local firm, Breathe Easy, which is producing the first face masks for lip-readers in Scotland complete with a clear panel over the wearer’s mouth.
The company, which was only set up in April by businessman Gavin McAdam, has been inundated with orders for the re-usable masks and can make around 200 a day, with more than 5,000 having been distributed free.
The newspaper reported that Breathe Easy has been working closely with Deaf Action Scotland, National Deaf Children’s Society (Scotland), Forth Valley Sensory Centre, and NELFT foundation trust in England.
Gavin said: “The initial plan was to manufacture and distribute quality fabric masks to front line workers, those at-risk, vulnerable groups and anyone concerned for friends or family.
“While not medical grade, the masks are ideal for casual use and provide a barrier which brings a real source of comfort for many people worried about contracting coronavirus while out in public. I was keen to produce something to help the deaf community and the designs have been well received.”
Teri Devine, Director of Action on Hearing Loss Scotland said: “Many people who are deaf or have hearing loss rely heavily on visual cues for effective communication including facial expressions and lip-reading so face coverings will create communication barriers.
“With the Scottish Government recommending the use of face coverings in an enclosed space where social distancing is difficult, we know that our community is keen for the usage of transparent face coverings to help with lip reading and welcome steps towards making this a reality without compromising the health and safety of our community.”

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