1 Feb 2022

Fears mask mandate will set back learning for deaf, hard of hearing students

8:52 am on 1 February 2022

Deaf and hard of hearing advocates are worried mask mandates in schools may prove difficult for some students who rely on visual cues.

Female teacher wearing protective mask during coronavirus pandemic writing mathematic task on board for group of elementary school kids. Education, math and covid19 concept

Teachers may need to adapt their style to be more visual, an advocate from Deaf Aotearoa says. Photo: 123RF

It comes ahead of a rule change, which means that from Friday students in Year 4 and above must wear a mask inside the classroom.

One of those students is Lucy McKenzie-Bridle, who uses cochlear implants.

Her dad, Peter McKenzie-Bridle, said she could struggle if her teacher wore a mask while speaking in class.

"In terms of what she needs in the classroom, she needs to be able to see people's faces. Not just the eyes and eyebrows. She needs to be able to see their full expression."

McKenzie-Bridle said he wanted rule makers to recognise the needs of people like his daughter, while maintaining health protections.

"The rules are there for good reason ... but in application they can be pretty difficult for people with needs such as Lucy's."

The chief executive for the National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Natasha Gallardo, wants people to be mindful of different communication needs.

"Take some time to really listen to what they are saying and increase the volume when talking to people. Try to communicate in different ways, either writing something down or using a phone as a note pad taking."

That was echoed by Zoe Ferguson who is a deaf university student currently in her second year of a Bachelor of Applied Management degree.

"I understand the importance of the mask wearing, I am compliant, but I feel that with distancing, teachers and interpreters should be able to remove their masks in a classroom to make sure that learners like me and the many other deaf students in NZ can participate and learn," she said.

"A solution that would work for me (and many other deaf kids) would be for the teacher to remove their mask when teaching from the front, for teachers to make better use of visual communication, like pointing to provide more information to what they are saying. Also for teachers and the general public to be more patient and repeat what they have said, at times."

Lara Draper from Deaf Aotearoa believes schools with deaf and hard of hearing students will need to be creative when it comes to teaching.

She said teachers may need to adapt their style to be more visual, which Draper said would probably benefit all other students as well.


"It's making sure the social aspect of school is still available to them. And I think schools really need to think about and plan intentionally with the support from government and from information coming from those official sources as well."

The Ministry of Education website says there are a number of exemptions to wearing a mask in the classroom, which include having to communicate with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing or for people who are unable to wear a mask for health reasons.

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