The latest recommendations from NPHET to compulsorily mask primary school children landed like an emotional bomb among parents that have children with additional needs or a disability.
I know this because my son is profoundly deaf and like many other deaf children, he attends mainstream school. I am also in daily contact with many other parents in similar circumstances to my own.
We are all distraught by this latest development. Our children, at least those who are aware of the news, are profoundly anxious and worried.
I have no doubt that the impact of the new mask requirement will be extremely detrimental to my son’s educational and social wellbeing. This is because it is critically important for him and other deaf children to have full visual access to a person’s lips and face when they are communicating with them.
I could cite chapter and verse from the academic literature in this area, but instead I am asking you to trust me on this. Its common sense really, isn’t it?
What compounds the hurt and anger we are feeling is that NPHET chose to make this ‘recommendation’ in the same week that a report from the deaf advocacy organisation, Chime, found that deaf children in Ireland already suffer from alarming degrees of social and emotional difficulties. It was highlighted that deafness in and of itself was not the cause of the problems but rather other factors that were outside the control of deaf and hard of hearing children.
This report found that the rate of socio-emotional difficulties amongst deaf and hard of hearing children is more than three times that of the hearing population.
What NPHET have now done is to ensure that such harm will be even more long-lasting, and possibly irreparable in many instances. The Covid world is already a much more difficult reality for deaf people. Hearing people find it more challenging trying to communicate in daily interactions that include masks or screens. So, think how difficult it must be, if not impossible at times for those that are hard of hearing or are deaf.
Deaf children in the classroom are already at a disadvantage and can struggle to keep up with their hearing peers. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for our children to see people’s mouths when they are speaking. When I am out with my son and I am required to wear a mask, I regularly have to remove it when I am talking to him so that he can see my face.
I know there are masks with transparent windows available, but even these present difficulties due to their propensity to fog up and reduce the voice quality and volume of the person speaking. Deaf children already battle with listening fatigue, this measure will bring it to an unbearable level and with no benefit to them.
Let’s not forget about open doors and windows and staggered break times, all the additional noise that impact a good listening environment that they did not have to previously contend with. Deaf children will not be able to identify where a voice is coming from if every child is to wear a mask. They will be isolated among their peers; they will miss huge volumes of class interactions.
To place a deaf child in this type of learning environment is unthinkable and even cruel.