In health care, we are constantly communicating. Communicating with our patients to share important information about their health and communicating with families to provide reassurance or support them in caring for their loved ones. We communicate with our team members, our leaders and with a myriad of people we interact with every minute of every day.
The words we choose and how we say them matter and sometimes can have serious consequences if they aren't understood. So what happens if a patient or family member can't understand what you're saying? This is the reality for many with communication challenges or for those who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind or Hard of Hearing (DDBHH).
Caroline Marcoux is a speech-language pathologist at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver. She works with outpatients with brain injuries to support their communication and swallowing needs.
"Language access equity is incredibly important in health care," she says. "It's important that everyone who is seeking health care is able to participate in their care and advocate for themselves."
One way Caroline is able to facilitate language equity access with her patients is by using clear window masks that allow her patients to see her mouth as she works with them.
"I use the clear window masks frequently with my clients who have aphasia and apraxia of speech. Being able to see my mouth helps support their auditory comprehension. Besides using gestures, writing keywords or drawing, it is a visual cue they can rely on," she explains. "My clients need to be able to see my mouth to help them produce sounds and words. My clients also often wear the clear window masks so I can also visualize their speech and language production."
As health-care providers, it is our responsibility to ensure all our patients, clients and residents have access to culturally and linguistically appropriate care. This includes removing communication barriers wherever possible for those who have communication challenges, speak a different language or are DDBHH.
With mandatory masks order in place in health-care settings across the province, health authority-approved surgical masks with a clear window are available to order through PHSA's Supply Chain.
"In American Sign Language (ASL), facial expressions are an important component of the visual language that helps to influence the meaning of signs," explains Scott Jeffery, Sign Language Coordinator for the Provincial Language Services (PLS). While those who are hard of hearing often rely heavily on speechreading (also known as lip-reading), in ASL, facial expressions or non-manual markers such as facial expressions, head tilts, head nods, and mouth morphemes are all a component of the language itself and can affect the meaning of that particular sign.
"When half of your face is covered, it can mean significant communication barriers for those who are DDBHH," says Scott.
Connect with your unit clerk or supervisor today to have a box of clear-window surgical masks ordered for your area through your usual ordering processes. Due to limited supplies, please limit orders to one box per unit.
ITEM: Mask HUMASK Pro Vision 2000 with window – Level 2
ITEM ID#: VCH 00132280, PHSA 00095895
To learn more about the tools and resources available to all staff to support language access equity, visit the Provincial Language Services (PLS) website.