D-Stories | Society

A deaf person’s life in time of Covid-19

Mandatory masks in enclosed spaces, even if necessary, have made life difficult for those relying on lip-reading as an essential means of communication.

The theme of accessibility still struggles to enter the public debate, and the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem for disabled people, in particular for deaf persons. 

Mandatory masks are an obstacle to the communication based on lip-reading, often essential for a profoundly deaf person, thus creating an impenetrable wall that can further isolate these people. “Mandatory masks for deaf persons represent a huge problem, because they limit the possibility of communication to the extreme”, Loredana Maranghi, provincial president in Monza of the National Association of the Deaf (ENS), declared. 

Not only deaf people: also children and people with intellectual disabilities use our facial expressions (eyes, mouth) to understand pitch and meaning. The use of the mask removes from communication the expressive bodily language on which many people rely.

This issue is one of the many difficulties encountered by the Italian Government while protecting its citizens during the epidemic of SARS-CoV-2. Masks, and in general all the Individual Protection Devices (IPD), have become mandatory tools to restrain the virus, and they have been prescribed in all those situations in which it is impossible to keep a safe distance among people. Unfortunately, persons with special needs are at a disadvantage and the system’s answer to the emergency tends to exclude them.

Masks, and in general all the Individual Protection Devices (IPD), have become mandatory tools to restrain the virus, and they have been prescribed in all those situations in which it is impossible to keep a safe distance among people.

This concern had already reached the Chamber of Deputies in May through a proposal submitted by Forza Italia deputy Giuseppina Versace, and several prototypes of masks with a transparent “window” on the mouth have been realized. However, the lack of certification from the Italian National Institution of Health prevented some categories such as law enforcement agencies, pharmacists, and health workers from using these masks, as denounced by the president of ENS Parma Gabriele Dall’Asta. Certified models have appeared on the market only recently.

It is difficult to grasp the extent of the problem since deaf people do not represent a homogeneous group. Indeed, several grades of hearing impairment can be identified: persons deaf from birth (the so-called prenatal deafness), or individuals who lost their hearing in adulthood, who are supported by hearing aids and cochlear implants. Italy divides hearing impairment into four categories according to the loss of decibels, and the National Institute of Social Security (INPS) provides support measures for the different grades of disability. 

“Deaf people are always considered a pain in the neck, now more than ever, I know”, the ENS Parma president Gabriele Dall’Asta says, “But the alternative is to lose our historical battle: the ghettoization of deaf persons talking only to each other”.

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