Deaf Children New Zealand supports the health imperative for mandatory mask wearing as the Omicron COVID variant circulates. For deaf children, who rely heavily on lipreading to get the full meaning of conversations, masks can be a barrier to communication. This applies equally to children with aided hearing such as cochlear implants or hearing aids as they supplement the poor clarity of their devices with lip reading and for those teachers using FM/Remote microphones for their deaf students, the mask muffles the sound.
A mask exemption is in place for teachers with Deaf/ Hard of Hearing children and it is at the discretion of staff as to whether they choose to use the exemption. Deaf Children New Zealand would encourage teachers to apply the exemption.
Below are a few suggestions to consider for your deaf children while we live with Omicron:
- Use more visual resources
- Use technology, e.g. speech-to-text app on devices e.g. google chat or Otter
- Consider trying a mask that has a clear window so people can read your lips
- Increase use of Resource Teachers of the Deaf and NZSL if the child signs
- Be patient – remember children who are deaf and hard of hearing may be struggling with communication and may feel overwhelmed during this time
- Allow more rest time
- Ask frequently for feedback from the student
- Correct operation of hearing devices such as hearing aids and FM/RM systems are more important than ever – consider ‘sound tests’ with the child, or asking an ASSIST or AoDC to visit the class to check
- Use subtitles/captions on videos, especially if speakers are wearing masks
- Consider teacher aides, especially during tests
- Invite the child and family to school to create an IEP, to incorporate their views on how they can help their child access the curriculum while masks are being used
You can access more information through these links.
- Covid 19 – Government mask advice
- RNZ news – fears mask mandate will set back learning for deaf hard of hearing students
- Covid 19 and mask guidance from MOE