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Hard-of-hearing community struggles during pandemic

MONTREAL (CityNews) – Quebec’s hard-of-hearing community is seeking help as many individuals continue to struggle with communication barriers surrounding face masks.

“There is a huge community that is suffering right now,” said Abby Stonehouse, Program Coordinator at Hear Entendre Quebec.

With masks covering everyone’s lips, the pandemic has made it very difficult for those who can’t hear to communicate. When everyone took to virtual meetings and zoom calls – with no closed captioning – things got even worse.

“Hearing loss is an invisible disability and most people don’t see it,” explained Heidy Wager, Executive Director at Hear Entendre Quebec.

Lockdown measures are meant to help protect people from the spread of COVID-19, however for 3.21 million hard-of-hearing Canadians, that’s not the case. Lip-reading and being able to see facial expressions are a must for them.

“When I was going out in public I realized how much I relied on lip reading, they would ask me important questions like in the grocery store, but I wouldn’t be able to understand what they were saying,” explained Stonehouse.

“I’ve had some members who said they were in the pharmacy and they have some of their personal info being shouted at them.”

Hear Entendre Quebec has written an open letter to Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante about the struggles the hard-of-hearing community has had during the pandemic and what they say she and other politicians can do to help.

“We didn’t get a response as of yet. We got a response that they’ve received it and they’re reviewing it,” said Katrina Tarondo, board member at Hear Entendre Quebec. “The goal of the letter was, [when] these public officials go in front of the TV, if they can wear clear masks in public even just for a few seconds, it gonna encourage the public to wear them.”

“The challenge for us is to be using a mask that is recognized by the government and so the clear mask is the one right now that is fully accepted at all levels and the federal government,” explained Wager. “They’ve just issued medical daily use [masks], kind of like the blue mask that we all wear with the little [clear] window, which is gonna be hitting Quebec very shortly.”