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COVID-19: Face masks spark ‘fear and anxiety’ among deaf, hard of hearing

Click to play video 'Face masks adding stress to the hearing-impaired' Face masks adding stress to the hearing-impaired
Many people with hearing disabilities rely on reading lips to communicate with others, but that's not possible when people are wearing face masks.

For roughly four million Canadians who are deaf or living with hearing loss, solid face coverings are leading to heightened levels of anxiety.

“It’s fear and anxiety and the constant stress of just being able to cope with the present situation with face masks and of having to worry about how will I communicate,” said Marilyn Kingdon, president and chair of the board of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.

Many people young and old rely on reading lips as they go about their daily lives and masks make that impossible.

Face coverings are required in more locations and health experts say they can reduce your risk of contracting the novel coronavirus if you come in contact with someone who is infected.

Read more: Melbourne declares disaster, enforces curfew as coronavirus cases spike

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Kingdon and many other advocates understand how important masks are in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 but they want greater public awareness to help those who are deaf or have hearing loss.

“We’re looking to advocate with the health minister in Canada to talk about these issues and promote the practice of wearing clear masks as a standard approach where applicable,” Kingdon said.

Click to play video 'Dr. Kris Boksman has tips to alleviate mask anxiety' Dr. Kris Boksman has tips to alleviate mask anxiety
Dr. Kris Boksman has tips to alleviate mask anxiety

A similar push is underway in the United Kingdom where it is estimated 12 million people are deaf or hard of hearing.

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On July 31, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced masks would be required in more locations, including museums and cinemas, starting Aug. 8.

The pandemic has revealed long-standing challenges for those who are deaf or have hearing loss.

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In May, two deaf doctors shared their experiences in an issue of the British Medical Journal, highlighting the lack of clear face coverings approved for the medical setting.

Kingdon lost her hearing as a young adult. In 2005, she had surgery to have a cochlear implant inserted in her right ear but she still reads lips.

Click to play video 'Developing nations reporting lower COVID-19 death rates' Developing nations reporting lower COVID-19 death rates
Developing nations reporting lower COVID-19 death rates

She described how a recently scheduled appointment to see her optometrist was filled with “dread” because she had to wear her mask and knew they would also have their faces covered for protection against the virus.

“I was wearing my mask and when I walked through the door, I saw they had clear face shields and instantly it was a different story. I just knew I would be able to make it work and not struggle to understand what they were saying,” Kingdon said.

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Read more: COVID-19: Doctors say wearing masks in crowded outdoor spaces helps prevent spread of coronavirus

Many individuals or businesses may not realize how a mask may hinder someone’s ability to shop or travel or access health care when they have hidden disabilities.

“There’s been so many issues come through those of us with hearing loss and it’s created just not communication issues but very much mental health issues. There is a lot of angst. There is a lot of frustration. There is a lot of fear,” Kingdon said.

There are many apps for mobile phones that can assist in communication or questions can be written down, but you have to be able to recognize that someone is struggling.

Advocates say those with hearing loss will often touch their ears or try to use their hands in some way to show that they don’t understand or are having trouble communicating.