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Deaf mother and daughter from Maidstone campaign for face masks with see-through panels to be made widely available

Face masks have left deaf people feeling isolated, anxious and scared to leave the house, a mother and daughter with hearing loss argue.

Leigh Thompsett and her daughter, Jayne Arnold, from Maidstone, both rely heavily on lip reading, making it almost impossible to understand what people are saying if their face is covered.

Leigh Thompsett and her daughter, Jayne Arnold want see-through masks to be widely available
Leigh Thompsett and her daughter, Jayne Arnold want see-through masks to be widely available

The pair wants the government to promote masks with see-through panels, so the public is still protected from Covid-19, but deaf people can once again interact with others.

Mrs Thompsett says the problem began at the start of lockdown, when supermarket staff wearing masks made it impossible for her to understand them, leaving her so anxious she now only uses the click and collect service.

But the problems have got far worse since non-essential shops, pubs and cafes have reopened.

Eighteen-year-old Miss Arnold says lots of her friends have been going out to socialise but she feels uncomfortable joining them.

The former Maidstone Grammar School for Girls pupil said: "It affects me all the time. Even when out walking my dog, if people wearing masks try and talk to my I just cannot understand them, especially when there is a lot of background noise as my hearing aids only pick this up.

Masks with transparent panels can be bought from websites such as Etsy. Picture: Simply Lovely Design Co
Masks with transparent panels can be bought from websites such as Etsy. Picture: Simply Lovely Design Co

"Recently, I did go to the pub with one of my close friends who is also deaf but we couldn’t understand the waitress at all. It makes me feel a lot more isolated as it is hard to keep up with conversations when there are no masks let alone when people wear masks."

Miss Arnold has been going to shops since they reopened, but does not feel able to go on her own, and thinks the new law requiring customers to wear face masks from Saturday, July 24 will make things even tougher.

"At the moment I am always with someone as I just cannot understand people well enough and do not feel comfortable enough to go on my own. As masks are now being made compulsory in shops for everyone I do not feel comfortable going because I will not even be able to understand my friends," she said.

Using public transport is no longer an option for Mrs Thompsett since face coverings were made compulsory while travelling.

The 49-year-old said: "I just wouldn’t understand people at all. It has deterred me from going out and made me feel more isolated as I even struggled before the pandemic with people who have accents or beards."

The pair feels the deaf community has been neglected by the government
The pair feels the deaf community has been neglected by the government

She added: "I have been socialising with my deaf friends who understand and are in the same situation as me."

Miss Arnold, who has bilateral mild to moderate hearing loss and Mrs Thomspett, who is completely deaf in her right ear and has profound loss in her left, would like more people to consider wearing face masks with transparent panels.

Mrs Thompsett, an assessment officer at deaf charity, HiKent, said: "People buying these masks would be so much more helpful, not just for the deaf community but also for people who suffer from autism, ADHD, the elderly, young children etc. Face shields are also really helpful as they do allow your lips to be seen so we can understand."

Miss Arnold added: "There are 12 million deaf people living in the UK and we are isolating and discriminating against this percentage of the population. Deafness is an invisible disability and is not understood at all unless you have experienced it. Wearing a clear mask is a simple solution for a huge problem the deaf community are facing."

The mother and daughter feel the government has neglected their community during the pandemic and needs to help by making these alternative masks widely available to the public.

"When the Prime Minister announced lockdown there was no interpreter on the news, so many deaf people were left confused and didn’t understand what was happening," said Mrs Thompsett.

"It took weeks for the BBC to add an interpreter so the deaf community can understand - this made the whole of the deaf community feel isolated and confused about the already strange and scary times.

"Even now when the government is making masks mandatory, they have not made suitable alternatives or arrangements available so again, we have been isolated even more."

She added: "We do not have the expertise or knowledge to do this by ourselves so we need the help of the government to make these masks available to all. This will not make the deaf community feel isolated, vulnerable and discriminated against."

Founder of Friendly Face Masks - which produces the adapted coverings - Sonia Carley, has also launched a petition asking for the masks to be made available for NHS use.

Companies selling transparent masks include: Friendly Face Masks, and Domdritch Studio, Simply Lovely Design Co, and Bumble Beez Dresses, available on Etsy, with some costing as little as £5.80.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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