People with hearing difficulties in UAE urge others to wear clear masks during Covid-19 pandemic


People with hearing difficulties have called for greater understanding of the challenges they face during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Standard masks have made it almost impossible for anyone who is partially or entirely deaf to lip-read, said experts.

They urged people to adopt clear masks, where possible, particularly if they are dealing with anyone who is hard of hearing.

The UAE made it obligatory for its residents to wear face masks to cover the nose and mouth at all times outside their home last April. They can be removed for eating, once the person is seated.

Covid really means that people with hearing difficultiesare having to own up to this challenge in their life, and own it

Sophie Wheatcroft

One Dubai resident who has suffered with hearing loss since birth said she felt helpless at times.

She received her Covid-19 vaccine recently, but the registration agent refused to lower his mask to allow her to lip-read.

“He was asking me to sign something. He was asking me for my Emirates ID. I then realised I didn’t have my medical record number,” said Sophie Wheatcroft, 42 who is from the UK.

“Because it was a busy room and I was only one metre in front of the desk, they wouldn’t lower their mask.

“I really felt on the back foot. I would recommend anyone who is hard of hearing to take a friend with them.”

Ms Wheatcroft, who has lived in Dubai for 16 years, received speech therapy as a child, so her disability is not obvious, particularly if there is no background noise or she is able to lip-read.

Yet she has found herself having to tell more people about her condition during the pandemic than ever before.

“I have been reminded of the benefit of remaining calm, because when one sort of enters into flappy or triggered mode, you can’t remain logical or rational,” she said.

“Breathing deeply helps. And being extremely upfront about the hearing loss is helpful.

“Covid really means that hard of hearing people are having to own up to this challenge in their life, and own it. They have to tell people around them that they need additional support.”

Marie-Therese Abi Akel recommends people wear clear masks so that those with hearing difficulties can lip-read. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Marie-Therese Abi Akel says transparent masks are very helpful for people with hearing difficulites. Chris Whiteoak / The National

One speech therapist said many of her patients have also experienced issues understanding what people are saying.

“Here, at the centre, the population we have is very protected. We are all aware what’s happening and we do use strategies but, yes, they are facing problems outside their family circle,” said Marie-Therese Abi Akel, head of speech and language therapy at the Rashid Centre for disabled people.

People who are hard of hearing use a lot of strategies to communicate with others, she said.

Lip-reading is one of the main ones, which is why it is so hard for people with hearing difficulties during the pandemic.

“We are in a society where we have a lot of languages, and they are already struggling when they meet people who maybe do not speak their mother tongue. Now people are wearing masks, so it is challenging,” Ms Akel said.

She advises her patients to use text to speech devices if they can type, or apps which use photos.

But she urged people to be more mindful of those who have hearing difficulties and wear clear masks wherever possible.

“There are plenty of clear masks available, even on Amazon,” Ms Akel said.

“You can order it and it’s not very expensive. It really helps, and it’s not a big deal for others to use.”

Residents and visitors wear face masks around Dubai


Published: March 25, 2021 07:00 AM