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What’s your bugbear?

The pandemic has raised so many different mental health issues for people all over the world, but one in particular has stood out for me is the issue of communication.

For me, as a deaf person, it is hard enough as it is to engage in communication with people anyway, with all the issues that come along with talking to people especially where there is lots of background noise, indoors or outdoors, and especially where there are large groups of people in places like the school playground or shopping centres for example. And even when there isn’t that much noise, I find myself nowadays putting my ear as close as I can get to the person and look the other way so I can hear them better, which isn’t really a great way to communicate.

The new “normal” which is ever evolving and uncertain has become a “normal” part of our lives and hard to ignore which is why I feel the need to speak about it and highlight the importance of good communication and the innate human need and desire for all of us to connect with each other as best as we can in these difficult times.

I do actually have an exemption and don’t have to strictly wear a mask but I do tend to wear it anyway – I really don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m not wearing a mask and I also want to be doing my bit and help to prevent the spread of the virus.

Since most people cover their faces these days, I can’t really make the eye contact that I used to be able to make so easily and take in the energy of the conversation as I was used to, using facial expression and lip reading to guide me through the realms of communication.

It’s just how it is, but I do find it hard to accept the way things are and so I have been looking to make things better in any way I can, even if I can somehow help to promote this basic human need for good communication, whoever you are, and whatever learning disability or imperfection you may have that might be impairing your communication in some way, young or old… and help raise much needed awareness for those people who have to communicate with anyone with any level of deafness or a learning disability, to wear a transparent mask so that people can engage with you “properly” as best as they can.

The JDA (Jewish Deaf Association) have been a great support to me and my daughter with our deafness supporting us at home and school, and are now producing a variety of masks which help people access communication in a way they aren’t able to when our faces are covered. It helps reduce the difficulty and the struggle which counts for a lot these days…

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have this worry, but the reality is that we do have to somehow adapt to this new “normal”, and ideally everyone would wear these masks but more so those who are customer or people facing, so that we can all be more inclusive of everyone we need to communicate with.

Also, what I have found overall is that this difficulty in communication isn’t just restricted to deaf people anymore. It is affecting us all (to differing degrees of course) which is why I feel more able and the need to speak out and raise awareness of the issues from my own perspective. We don’t have to deal with this alone.

Of course your struggle with communication depends on a multitude of factors eg. age, level of hearing loss, perhaps you have some kind of vision impairment and it affects your vision too especially if you wear glasses. Personally, I find it harder to see properly wearing a mask and also, I am finding I get lightheaded underneath the mask and it affects my concentration too especially when I am rushing around and in busy, noisy environments. This probably has something to do with the fact that I am very aware of the feeling of having the mask on, with the difficulty breathing especially when moving around and talking to people and also using some of my energy on being able to concentrate on hearing what people are saying to me if I need to engage in conversation….

There are a lot of things for my mind to think about and process with the mask on. I also have to keep checking my hearing aids are still in place with my mask behind my ear – one of my biggest fears is that I will lose my hearing aid somewhere so I do have to be extra cautious these days and make sure I take off the mask really slowly. The hearing aids I have are amazing and I’m very grateful but they are so small, still a good thing, but can come out quite easily if I take off the mask too quickly!

With all of these issues at hand, the masks do put me off having long conversations with people so I do tend to keep conversations short where possible and prefer to message people or video call them later on.

Nowadays, when I manage to grab the opportunity to go out with my family or socialise with my friends or anyone outside my “household”, it really does feel like a luxury. I really appreciate being able to go out so much more these days, even just to go out for a coffee (or tea), and actually holding conversations with people face to face in a more relaxed environment.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring… What’s important though is that we make sure we enjoy our freedom in life as long as we can and appreciate all those people close to you in your life and things you may be taking for granted unknowingly….

All we can do is to recognise our own needs to be nurtured and loved through it all, have faith, and hold onto hope dearly in our hearts, like a rock, a non-negotiable in our lives, and never let it go ❤️