The Daily Telegraph

Face masks have robbed me of my ability to beat deafness

- ANDREA PEPPER

Afew weeks ago, after a long period of dutifully staying in, I needed to go to the Post Office. I had my shoes on and parcel in hand when it hit me that the person at the counter might be wearing a face mask. In reluctantl­y asking my daughter to come with me, I felt the independen­ce I’ve spent my whole life building up slip away in one fell swoop.

I am profoundly deaf and rely on lip-reading for communicat­ion. It’s only ever felt like a minor part of who I am. But now that I’m faced with a high proportion of the population wearing face masks, my method of communicat­ing with the world outside my home is lost. Being hearing-impaired has suddenly become a huge part of my identity.

Growing up in the 1970s meant that telephones were the main electronic form of communicat­ion, although I was unable to use them. The advent of email, mobile phones, texting and subtitles gave me an independen­ce that would have been impossible to generation­s before me. To me, my “profound hearing loss” had become a minor disability.

I now consider myself a confident, outgoing 55-yearold academic who has been lucky enough to carve out a career in an area that I love and feel passionate about: leukaemia research. It’s a challengin­g job and requires me to communicat­e continuall­y with others.

To go from such an active, high-powered role to feeling nervous about even leaving the house without somebody accompanyi­ng me is not something I ever envisioned happening.

But more and more people are wearing face masks. I don’t blame them at all for following a clear and effective public health measure, but the more they do so, the more reclusive I feel.

Face masks are now compulsory on public transport. I have never been able to hear announceme­nts on trains but now my coping mechanism of asking fellow passengers to tell me what has been said is lost. What do I do now? I guess I just turn up for my journey and cross my fingers?

There are 11 million people in the UK with hearing loss and nearly one million are profoundly deaf like me. Many of us depend on lip-reading and facial expression­s to communicat­e.

In the current crisis my biggest fear is myself or a loved one being admitted to hospital and me being unable to communicat­e with the care team. Sadly, many will have slipped away from the world seeing a face mask moving above them, but with no idea what the last spoken words to them were.

The Government’s indecisive handling of the pandemic has meant that masks will become normal attire for much longer than they should have. Indeed, they may now become a permanent feature of life outside our homes. So I urge the public to support me in my campaign for all face masks to be made from transparen­t material.

Transparen­t masks are available in other countries and need to become the norm here, too.

Indeed, I have no idea why masks are traditiona­lly made from paper and then disposed of. Surely it is more economical and environmen­tally friendly for them to be made from a material that can be disinfecte­d and used again and again?

Don’t make me feel I have to give up on everyday life. If you have the technology to manufactur­e clear face masks, please come forward and help hearing-impaired Britons regain their independen­ce.

Keeping people safe should not mean disabling others.

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