This week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) once again reiterated its stance of requiring passengers to wear face coverings and non-surgical masks for crew.

Most airlines were quick to mandate masks for all crew and employees at airports and onboard aircraft, but a little slower in asking or requiring passengers to do the same.

While such action seems entirely appropriate as a health measure, it runs the risk of alienating a large passenger group – the deaf. In the UK alone, it is estimated there are approximately 11 million people who are deaf or have hearing difficulty, and this is set to rise to 15.6 million by 2035.

With the aviation industry taking great strides to improve accessibility for all, the wearing of face masks is going to be challenging for all deaf passengers.

As even the best lip-readers only catch less than half of the words said to them, a face mask will obscure natural facial expressions impeding communication and understanding. It is therefore important any advice given by airline and industry associations, include clear messages about how this will impact deaf travellers.

But there are some reaching out to the deaf community to make communication easier while staying safe.

In April, the Thai government unveiled a face mask designed specifically for the deaf. According to Anira Thinon, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. The mask is designed with a transparent window in the middle, which is large enough to reveal lip movements.

In the US, Safe ‘N’ Clear manufactures the FDA-registered The Communicator surgical mask, which has a fog-resistant clear window in front of the mouth to allow the wearer and those who come in contact a chance to communicate clearly.

Until airline advice around face coverings takes into account the needs of deaf travellers, they’ll remain the object of the wrong type of lip service.

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