The Coordinator of Presidential Task Team On COVID-19, Dr Kereng Masupu says government will consider the option of transparent masks in the interest of the deaf and hard to hear members of the community.
This follows complaints raised by the deaf community that as COVID-19 control and prevention measures intensify and all Batswana being urged to wear masks, the deaf find themselves further disadvantaged as they depend on lip-reading for ease of communication. Masupu explained that they had not forgotten about the deaf community when the pandemic started but regarding the usage of transparent masks, he said they would have to conduct research on them. “It means our research team would have to work on them first because there should be some set standards for such masks. We do not want the users to suffocate because of the material used for the transparent masks,” he said.
Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Magosi also added that they would make sure that the deaf community is not left behind.
The Botswana Association of the Deaf (BOAD) executive director, Shirley Keoagile would have none of what the COVID-19 task team had said, saying it was clear the deaf always come as ‘second thought’.
She added there is no need to start conducting research because transparent masks were already in the market. She said the challenge is that the government never consults the deaf community and it was unfortunate that even during a deadly pandemic the attitude does not change.
“COVID-19 is moving at its own pace
“That would be extremely helpful for the deaf when visiting service points. Deaf people must indicate that they are deaf before a conversation starts to alert the other person that they should remove their masks. We are requesting the government to assist us to have access to transparent masks. Sign language interpreters are also required to use transparent masks,” she said.
She added it was disappointing that the COVID-19 toll free numbers do not have WhatsApp and that makes it difficult for the deaf to seek assistance. She said in other countries, all government toll free numbers have WhatsApp access because they are aware of the deaf community.
Keoagile said BOAD has been refining the skills of sign language interpreters who are involved in the COVID-19 programmes. She said in the beginning the interpreters were not interpreting properly and that confused the deaf. She said they are now left with fine turning the skills of Botswana Television’s news sign language interpreters.