While many of us have been adapting to a masked way of life during the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a portion of the population that’s been especially affected by not being able to see people’s faces — and that is deaf people and people who are hard of hearing.

Lip reading is an important tool that deaf people use to communicate in addition to sign language. Being able to understand what’s being said just from looking at the motions of the other person’s lips is a highly developed skill, and something people with normal hearing might be taking for granted.

The rising normalcy of wearing masks around the world has made it difficult for deaf people to rely on this skill. Silent Voice, a Japanese NPO that “helps people battling with communication barriers”, is holding an event to raise awareness of this issue. In preparation for this event, they released a video demonstrating what it’s like for a deaf person seeing a person talk with a mask.

The upcoming event is called “Deaf Mart”, and it puts participants in a convenience store where they won’t be able to use their sense of hearing. This is done by blaring loud music that makes it difficult to hear anything else, and participants are challenged to try explaining what they want to the staff in spite of all the noise.

To make sure that the noise level does not damage participants’ hearing, the event organizers coordinated with experts to keep the volume at a safe level. Inside the store, there will be a person who has a hearing impairment, and participants are encouraged to try and ask for their guidance on how to communicate effectively without using words.

Aside from being an interesting challenge, the main goal of the event is to promote Silent Voice’s Clear Mask Project, where they’ll be distributing 10,000 transparent masks for free to ease deaf people’s difficulties during the pandemic.

“Deaf Mart” will be held for one day in Tokyo on December 4, 2020, and participation is free. You can register for the event online and find more details in Japanese through Silent Voice’s website.

By - Jen Laforteza.