Volunteer Yve Mary Barwood with one of the packs.

Shops and businesses in Downham Market have joined forces with the West Norfolk Deaf Association (WNDA) to raise awareness of issues faced by members of the deaf community. 

The charity, based in King’s Lynn, runs No8 The Old Bookshop in Downham and volunteers there have been spreading the word with its neighbours to highlight the challenges posed by face masks to people who lip read.

Two service-users started the project and it has coincided with Deaf Awareness Week which started on Monday.

The WNDA joined forces with the Local People Project in the borough, which is supported by Scope and funded by the People’s Health Trust, to provide businesses with Deaf Awareness packs.

The packs include signs encouraging people to indicate if they need to lip read so staff are aware and can help. They also contain a couple of clear masks to use, a leaflet about finger-spelling and tips on communicating with those who have hearing difficulties.

“The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but for members of our community with hearing loss the situation is much worse,”said Sarah Cox,

manager of No8 The Old Bookshop.

“Many rely on lip reading either entirely, or to supplement whatever degree of hearing they have, so a mask is a huge barrier and not being able to communicate can lead to social isolation.

“We were grateful to receive funding to spread the word among our lovely neighbours in Downham and they have been incredibly supportive of us.” 

Businesses to sign-up so far include Framin’ Art, Richard Gill Traditional Butcher, Morris Armitage, Beds of Paradise, Knots Timber Merchant and Salon at Charmed Interiors.

“Deaf Awareness issues need highlighting so anyone who deals with the public can be prepared to help when it is needed. We are organising Deaf Awareness courses for businesses and we will also be holding British Sign Language courses later this year at our Railway Road building when restrictions allow. 

“We want to ensure that as many people as possible can help raise awareness and increase accessibility and inclusion,” added WNDA manager Anna Pugh.

“The pandemic brought many additional problems for our community and mask-wearing has been a huge issue which we hope can be mostly overcome with campaigns like this.” 

For more information call 01553 773399 or email info@wnda.org.uk