Exeter Chiefs Foundation assists Deaf Students in the city

deaf academy photo face masks.jpg
Picture caption, L-R Oliver and Tim Phillips, Exeter Chiefs Foundation trustee Alan Quantick, Deaf Academy assistant principal Mark Stocks and fundraising appeal manager Sarah Shaw

Exeter Foundation donation supports Deaf students

When Tim Phillips realised his son Oliver, who is deaf, and his fellow classmates at the Deaf Academy were going to struggle to communicate with people wearing standard face masks or coverings he contacted his favourite rugby team to help.

And the Exeter Chiefs Foundation, the charity arm of Exeter Chiefs, stepped into help not just 14-year-old Oliver, but also his fellow students at the Exmouth-based Deaf Academy by producing face coverings with clear panels.

Trustees of the foundation handed over a box of the face coverings at a presentation at the new Academy this week.

Tim said: ‘I contacted them as wearing clear panel face masks is key for Oliver to lip read and be able to understand what people are saying. I know they are very supportive of the community, so I thought, ‘why not give them a call? I was really pleased when they said they would be able to help.’

‘Oliver is great, he just gets on with things, but as a family we could see how this was impacting him, so it is good to be able to do something that makes a difference. Unless you have the lived experience of deafness it can be hard to understand the impact of not being able to see people’s faces clearly when they are speaking, and we hope more and more people will begin to understand this.’

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Deaf Academy has been advocating for clear face coverings. Losing the ability to lip-read or know when someone is smiling or laughing means deaf people face a world where they can’t understand what’s being said to them. This puts not only the students at the academy, but deaf people all over the UK at a higher risk of loneliness and isolation.

The #KeepItClear Campaign, first coined by the National Deaf Children’s Society, has been shared all over social media by deaf charities and the local community alike. There has also been a rise in self-made clear panel coverings to help lip-reading during the pandemic.

The face coverings donated by the Exeter Chiefs Foundation not only help to improve communication between deaf staff, students and the wider community, but they also play an essential role in raising awareness of the impact the coronavirus has had on the deaf community. The Deaf Academy is urging more organisations to follow suit of the Exeter Chiefs Foundation and create and wear face coverings with clear panels or use clear visors to help those who lip-read.

Mark Stocks, assistant principal at the Deaf Academy, which opened its doors to students this September, said: ‘The mandatory wearing of face coverings in many public places makes communication especially difficult for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. We would encourage people to use clear panel masks or face coverings as much as possible, and also to be aware of the difficulties deaf people may face when communicating with people who are wearing a standard mask.

‘I recently flew to Scotland from Bristol and despite having a cochlear implant, I struggled to communicate with anyone, no one in the airport had clear face masks or visors, and would not lower them to help with lip-reading. Going through security was particularly difficult and has put me off flying during the current pandemic.’

Mark added: ‘We are extremely grateful to the Exeter Chiefs Foundation for supplying us these branded face coverings, they are already very popular with our students and staff.’

Exeter Chiefs Foundation chairman Tony Rowe OBE said: ‘My fellow trustees and I were delighted to be able to help. Although, in the scheme of things, it was a small contribution for our charity to make, it is one that will make a huge difference to a lot of people.

‘The difficulties deaf people are experiencing with traditional face coverings during the current restrictions wasn’t immediately obvious until Tim and Oliver contacted us. The Exeter Chiefs Foundation exists to assist and enhance the lives of the local community and this request fitted our criteria perfectly.’

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