Asking the Masks

By Clovis Bernard

With everyone staying home, it is a great time to read unless you are reading lips.

The new reality is that it is recommended to wear a mask or a face covering while going out, to reduce the community spread of the coronavirus. Unfortunately, it also covers up the faces that we rely so much on for understanding people. Some of you have had experienced that while going out for grocery shopping, taking the bus, or responsibly enjoying some outdoor time.

Maybe you are nervous about asking people to pull down their masks so you can understand them, but it is as if you are asking them to expose themselves to a health risk. That can be nerve-whacking at times, but you continue to have your rights to a clear communication, especially for essential services. Many people want to help anyway they can.

Most of us can get by on grocery shopping with self-checkout if they are open, or basic hand gestures. For more complicated services like an in-person bank teller, it can be more complicated. In the healthcare system, the people are trained to communicate with those, and an interpreter can be provided if necessary. If you have an important meeting, it is a good practice to ask them to write down notes for you as well.

For more day to day interactions, this can seem like an stress test of navigating the world without understandable faces, but most people in my experience, in Vancouver, are more than willing to lower their masks for a quick second for you provided the circumstances is safe to do so. Maybe some of you have difficult-to-see hearing aids, and some of you do not want to let other people know that you have hearing loss. You do not need to explain that you’re hard of hearing. It is still good to let others know what you need to understand them, so they can help you. Maybe they happen to have a pencil and pad if they do not want to lower their mask. What if they know some sign language like some of you?

If what people are saying to you is important, they will do what they can to help you understand.

Have anything you want to share? You can email me. (