RIVERSIDE resident Buffy Harrison, who is profoundly deaf, has faced communication barriers during the coronavirus pandemic due to face masks taking away her ability to lip-read.
"I am totally reliant on lip-reading when communicating with people," Mrs Harrison said.
"As well as the lips I read facial expressions which eyes alone can rarely totally convey, so I need to see the whole face.
"Face masks make communication almost impossible."
Recently Mrs Harrison took herself to the emergency department at Wimmera Base Hospital after being injured by a rooster's talon.
"Due to everyone wearing face masks I was unable to answer any of the questions," she said.
"Thankfully, everyone lowered their masks in order to communicate with me."
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services confirmed recently that face masks can be lowered to support communications with people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, while maintaining a 1.5m distance.
"Auslan is totally visual and it involves signs, but the most important aspect of Auslan is facial expression and body language," she said.
"It would be impossible to teach with half the face hidden behind a mask.
"Facial recognition is severely hampered when you can't see the whole face.
"It's a bit like someone wearing a wig, it can change a face so that it's no longer instantly familiar."
Mrs Harrison also works at Marcroft Grains Pathology where one of her colleagues who wears a face mask is learning sign language to communicate with her.
"It would be wonderful if clear face masks were mandatory for everyone's wellbeing," Mrs Harrison said.
"What a difference it would make to patients in hospital if they could see the nurses and doctors' smiles.
"I think wearing a badge or having a note ready to show - that indicates you can't lip-read through masks - would be helpful."
Wimmera Hearing Society manager Sue Ward said there had been incidents of miscommunication in the deaf community and that many elderly residents also rely on lip-reading skills.
"The best solution now is for people to write things down if they struggle to hear," Mrs Ward said.
"Clear face shields have been suggested as an alternative to masks as they enable visibility to lip-read and see facial expressions.
"People are also trying to make face masks that are see-through.
"If you're more than 1.5 metres away it is safe to lift your mask to help communicate but you must first alert the person you are speaking to."
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