Magda Spence says it can be stressful for deaf people to communicate from behind a mask in the time of Covid-19. Picture: Supplied.
Magda Spence says it can be stressful for deaf people to communicate from behind a mask in the time of Covid-19. Picture: Supplied.

Challenges of being deaf in a pandemic

By Keagan Mitchell Time of article published Aug 7, 2020

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IMAGINE not being able to communicate with others when going to work, school or the shops? This is the situation for many deaf people who rely solely on lip reading for understanding. Right now, wearing a face masks is a must during the Covid-19 pandemic and this presents a challenge for people who use facial expressions, to follow what is being said.

This is the case for a Brackenfell family. Martie Spence and her daughters Magda and Anene Engelbrecht were all born deaf. Magda, 38, said her family relies on lip reading.

“At home we communicate without masks. However, it is quite stressful and puts me in the awkward position of explaining to others that I am deaf and unable to understand. Sometimes I have to use hand gestures or ask them to remove their mask, which also makes some people uncomfortable. When communicating with other deaf people, I use sign language which is easy to do while wearing a mask,” she said.

Magda suggested that those who rely on lip reading should use instant messaging and emails more often.

“A transparent mask only works for a while before breathing causes it to fog up. A transparent face shield is a better option because it still protects the person, allows for lip reading and the visibility of facial expression,” she said.

Magda, who is a software developer at the Shoprite Group for more than decade, attended mainstream institutions throughout her school career and obtained her Bachelor of Technology in software engineering from Unisa in 2005.

“My mother, sister and I were born deaf. However, my grandfather, a former school principal insisted that my sister and I not attend a special school for the deaf.I worked very hard to prove to my peers that I could achieve the same or better results despite my hearing disability. I faced many challenges, but learned to never give up. My endurance helped me to obtain academic honours in Grade 10 and passed Grade 12 with distinction,” she said.

Magda enjoys trying new recipes and watching cooking shows.

“I enjoy exploring and trying new and interesting things. I come across as serious, but that is mainly because I take work seriously. My hearing disability requires me to pay careful attention to ensure that I can lip read and understand correctly.Phone calls are still slightly tricky, I either get one of my colleagues to assist or ask the caller to use Google Hangouts or email to make communication easier,” she added.

National director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, Bruno Druchen, said: “The use of face masks is making communication much harder for deaf children. They won’t be able to lip read and, even if people use sign language to communicate, they won’t be able to see facial expressions. Facial expressions are an integral part of South African sign language”.

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