Face masks and safe distancing a communication barrier for the deaf
For Ms Fatihah Abdul Mutalib, who is deaf, social distancing measures and mask-wearing means she can no longer lip-read in communicating with others.
The student at the Asian Culinary Institute also felt face masks heavily impaired her ability to discern facial expressions, which are key to interpreting emotions.
Ms Fatihah, 20, said that even with hearing aids in both her ears, she found voices inaudible because of safe distancing measures.
Face masks also muffle speech, making it even harder for her to understand what is said.
The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) says that while wearing face masks is key to preventing the spread of Covid-19, it has raised communication barriers for the deaf.
A spokesman told The New Paper that 30 to 45 per cent of the English language can be understood through lip-reading. But face masks can completely remove the visual cues that help.
Sign language users are affected too. "Facial expressions are an intrinsic part of sign language," the spokesman said.
He added that transparent face masks can be of help to the deaf, but they may not be available in Singapore.
"Meanwhile, hearing people can show support by being willing to use alternative forms of communication, like typing on their phones, writing on notepads or showing gestures to the deaf community," he said.
"Knowing basic sign language can also be useful."
Ms Fatihah hopes those who can hear can be more patient with the deaf, especially amid Covid-19.
She recounts her experience with a retail assistant who refused to help when she was shopping with a friend, who was hard-of-hearing, last month.
She said: "We tried to use simple hand gestures to communicate, but he eventually walked away. We may be deaf, but we can still contribute to society."
Ms Fatihah said such encounters are fortunately rare, and Singaporeans are usually helpful and gracious.
As Singapore goes through phase two of its gradual economic reopening, SADeaf has pushed all its sign language classes online, and interested participants can visit its website at sadeaf.org.sg/sgsl-course/