The fight against Covid-19 has generated endless changes in everyone’s lives, and the mandatory use of sanitary masks in public spaces has been one of them. Something that for the nearly one million people with hearing disabilities who live in Spain has been much more than a simple gesture.
For them it has been a communicative barrier with those around them in all areas, social, work and educational, since they rely on lip reading, labiofacial expression and non-verbal language.
And in the case of young university students with hearing disabilities, it is also compromising their teaching and learning process , their development and their future, as highlighted by Salvador Alcaraz, professor in the Department of Didactics and School Organization , at the Faculty of Education of the University of Murcia.
According to the teacher, the use of non-accessible masks has caused an obstacle for these students to participate and access the curriculum, with the same opportunities as the rest.
So that no student is left behind in their training without compromising their health due to the health crisis, the solution to the problem lies in communicative masks . Made up of 4 layers of fabric, 2 of TNT and 2 of viscose.
The transparent layer is made of acetate and the window represents approximately 20% of the total surface of the mask, which allows you to see the lips and facial gestures while talking with them on.
In order to guarantee health security without harming the deaf community with communication barriers, such as with the use of opaque masks, these have been the first masks with a transparent window to pass analysis by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ( INSST).
Thus, from the Universia Foundation , backed by Banco Santander, and the Federation of Associations of Cochlear Implants of Spain , have launched #universidadconsentido, an action that has distributed until December 3, 2020 a total of 6,500 of these masks in all the Spanish universities .
This will allow inclusive communication in all spaces, not only for the hearing impaired students themselves, but also for teachers, administration and services staff, and other people from the academic environment, so that this academic year 2020-2021 can be developed in equal opportunities for all.
These masks have been dubbed ” Mask + Com “. This type of product is accepted by the occupational risk departments of various hospitals and health centers, and for five years, the United States Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, in charge of protecting public health by regulating the drugs, have accepted them as a standard product.
In the university environment they are already being used with success, according to the experience of Salvador Alcaraz himself , who has been able to use them in the teaching and learning process of a student with low hearing.
The teacher also highlights the important work of the diversity and volunteer services of universities like his, which have quickly provided him with this tool, as well as the necessary guidance for the development of the teaching and learning process in his subject.
Thanks to initiatives such as #universidadconsentido, the first campaign of this type carried out in Spanish universities , it is possible to focus, not only on the problem, but also on the solution, facilitating and normalizing the use of these masks in the university environment and its environment.
The importance of removing barriers in college
Access to a quality education is everyone’s right, and the fact that a teacher does not use a communicative mask in their classes slows down the development of students with hearing disabilities.
As a teacher, Salvador Alcaraz sees that this crisis “has made us understand that there is still a way to go to define our educational system as an inclusive system that respects the right to education” , something so necessary and so elementary that it is included in such significant documents as the Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and the Spanish Constitution itself, highlights the teacher.
Spanish society is aware of the need to work to eliminate barriers to inclusion, however, the health crisis has highlighted some weaknesses in the educational field, which have been transferred to the university scene on the attention to diversity.
But we must not forget the high professional level of the teachers and the great work they carry out to “give an inclusive response to diversity in times of great social tension such as those we have and are experiencing,” recalls Alcaraz.
Eliminating communication barriers is everyone’s obligation and making it possible is easier than it seems.