Spare a thought for the deaf/hard of hearing while wearing face coverings.
My family suffers a lot from hearing difficulties. My mother has age related hearing loss at the age of 72 and wears bi-lateral hearing aids; my sister is a Head teacher and during her time training and teaching Primary School children she managed to catch almost every cold, cough or ear infection doing the rounds and now suffers from hearing loss due to scar tissue in both of her ears (she has less than 50% hearing in one ear); my other sister has what one can only assume is a hereditary problem in that she has reduced hearing in both ears, without a real known explanation; my husband is hard of hearing due to excessively narrow ear canals that get clogged up (Yuk!) very easily, thus reducing his hearing. When we are all together, it would appear it is only me (and my 9 year old son, but he’s often switched off to adult conversation anyway!) who has acute hearing. I often astound my family with the fact I can hear what is being said in another room, when they often don’t hear what is being said in the room they are in!! I am truly thankful I have such good hearing.
My point is, all of the people I mention above use lip reading to compensate for their reduced hearing. It’s actually amazing how much they lip read; how much conversation they pick up using this measure. We all lip read as part of communication, but the hard of hearing more so. It’s a technique they have built up without even realising. So, now that we all have to wear face coverings to go into shops, things become a nightmare for those with hearing problems. Please can I ask you all to pause and think about how you react to someone while shopping:-
~ If you speak to someone and they appear to ignore you – consider that they maybe didn’t hear you.
~ If you say excuse me to someone and they don’t move out of your way – don’t just huff and puff and barge your way through, consider that they might be hard of hearing.
~ If you shout at someone and they still ignore you – don’t presume they are ignorant or rude, your first thought should be are they deaf or hard of hearing?
~ If you try to communicate with someone and they don’t respond – think about where you are standing in relation to that person. If you are stood behind them, they will probably have no clue you are even there, let alone speaking to them.
One of the things many people won’t know about people who are hard of hearing is that if there is a lot of noise around them, they are unlikely to know from which direction a sound is coming. For example if my mother is in the car, and there is talking in the car, the engine sound, the sound of other vehicles, HGVs and other noises, then there is a siren on top of all of the existing noise, she will have no idea where the sound of the siren is coming from. If my sister is in a room full of people and there are various conversations going on, she is actually only able to lip read what is being said in her own conversation because the cacophony of sound is too much for her ears to be able to decipher just one person speaking – imagine how tiring for her brain that is throughout an evening! Please bear this in mind when you are shopping, now that we are expected to wear face coverings. If you want someone’s attention, please stand in front of them, gesticulate (it’s a great form of communication) and if that person still doesn’t know what you are saying, find an alternative way of communicating. Perhaps you could write something down, or use some form of sign language, it doesn’t have to be the best British Sign Language, just pointing to something or guiding the person to where you want them to look will do just fine!
Most importantly of all, please don’t treat my mum, husband or sisters or any other person with hearing difficulties as if they are thick, rude, arrogant or abrasive – they just can’t understand what you are saying behind the face covering. They are in fact perfectly well educated and it is highly unlikely that they are being deliberately rude!
One final plea, to the staff working in retail. Please be patient, come up with innovative ways of communicating with the hard of hearing, make everyone feel welcome in your shop, including the hard of hearing. Face covering requirements mean that my mother will not be going shopping for leisure (which she always loved to do) as she is so concerned about not hearing instructions or requests. If you could make someone like my mum feel more comfortable you might just get more customers into your shop, which can only be a good thing, following lock-down and all that it brought with it for the retailer.