I am a hard of hearing health professional. Like my essential service colleagues, my work continues at this challenging and unprecedented time of pandemic and lockdown.
The demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a major issue. Countries throughout the world are competing for PPE to equip their hospital staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A barrier I am facing as we adapt to new ways of working is the way face masks interfere with my access to clear communication with my patients and colleagues. As a hard of hearing person I rely on lip reading to assist my comprehension of spoken language. When everyone’s lips are covered by masks this is very challenging. Speech is also muffled by the mask and the rustle the mask I am wearing makes further compounds this.
Of course we are all aware of the need to protect ourselves and those around us by using good protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. However I also know there are specialised masks being used in Europe and the United States, but these are currently not available in New Zealand.
The specialised masks won’t solve all of these issues but they do include a transparent window so that people like me, who need to see lip patterns to access full communication, can continue to serve our communities.
This is also an issue for anyone working with people who are hard of hearing or Deaf. This includes senior citizens who may have an age-related decline in their hearing and rely on visual cues to assist comprehension. These are also some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Similarly, NZSL Interpreters working in a medical setting should have the appropriate protection so they can stay safe while providing access to full communication for Deaf patients.
The right to effective communication when receiving a health or disability service is outlined in Article Five of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights. The Code states that “every consumer has the right to an environment that enables both consumer and provider to communicate openly, honestly, and effectively,” and outlines the obligations and duties of providers to comply.
We are living in unprecedented times and much will be learnt as we go through this journey, including identifying access barriers while staying safe. It’s important that we speak up so the lessons learnt now, shape the future conversations we have about addressing accessibility barriers.
I would like to see the introduction of Accessibility Legislation in Aotearoa New Zealand, with enforceable standards to ensure that our DHBs are supplied with specialised masks that enable clear communication for those with access needs.
If anyone can help Angela and the many other people who are keeping us going at this time, please get in touch.
This is my access story, it is one of many. I'm sharing it because I want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.