New mask mandate a challenge for deaf
Training for customer service staff urged
Hard-of-hearing people have extra challenges with the tightening of mask-wearing restrictions under the redlight traffic setting against Covid-19. Monique Leith, who is the co-chair of the Ka¯piti Coast Chamber of Commerce, has high-frequency hearing loss so can hear only some lowfrequency sounds with hearing aids.
It’s a hereditary hearing loss that was identified when she was very young and has progressively deteriorated.
For Monique and countless others, the mask-wearing has been another obstacle, albeit one they’re happy to navigate, to combat the pandemic.
With masks on, Monique can only see eyes peering back at her.
“I have no idea if they’re talking to me or what they’re saying.
“It creates a really high-anxiety situation when you’re not sure whether a stranger is interacting with you and so how to act or respond.”
The challenges have increased with the red-light setting, especially from a retail and hospitality perspective.
“Previously people were generally comfortable removing their mask for a moment to communicate but now there is heightened hesitancy or refusal.
“Usually when I tell staff I lip-read and can’t hear them, they will just continue to talk back through their mask until I prompt them on ways they can communicate, such as write it down, or until I just give up and leave.
“I’ve had staff write down, ‘I will get fired if I take off my mask’.
“I don’t want to put retail and hospo staff in an uncomfortable situation, and equally, I don’t want to be constantly humiliated.
“So the effect is I no longer go out into these settings unless I absolutely have to.”
She said it was common for people in customer-facing roles to “tense up, become embarrassed, or stare blankly back — not knowing what to do, when faced with a customer who has said they’re deaf / lip-read / can’t hear”.
But there were ways to make life easier for both parties.
“Business owners and managers can talk to their staff about what they can do if a customer indicates they lip-read / are deaf / cannot hear you, so they can respond to these situations calmly and confidently.
“I can count on one hand the number of businesses I can freely interact within this masked environment, and they have my repeat business [such as Dark Horse Coffee].
“Training staff to confidently interact with hard-of-hearing customers will make a big impact on those customers’ daily lives and is guaranteed to see them return time and again.”
Moreover, they could “make their staff aware of the instances where they are legally able to remove their mask at work, if they feel comfortable doing so, such as when speaking to a customer who is deaf or hard of hearing”.
“Having a small whiteboard or pen/ paper on hand to facilitate a conversation, learning some basic signs — hello, are you okay?, thank you — or having some flashcards ‘can I help you’ or ‘would you like a bag/receipt?’ are all tools which will empower staff to communicate differently and will make a huge, positive impact on your hard-of-hearing customer.”
Monique said human speech was made up of many frequencies which meant a lot of those frequencies wouldn’t get picked up by someone hard of hearing.
“It is the single most challenging thing to make sense of.
“It is like listening to a radio station or watching a TV show that is not tuned correctly and having to constantly piece together what is being said.”