Communicating while wearing a face mask

Communicating while wearing a face mask

One of the most effective ways of engaging with people from minority groups is by face-to-face contact – which can be difficult when wearing a face mask during the current pandemic.

Woman wearing personal protective equipment
"With some thoughtful and flexible practice, we can be inclusive to other accessibility needs without additional costs." - Jacqui Jobson, Fellow

The use of professional sign language and language interpreters is essential and, with some thoughtful and flexible practice, we can be inclusive to accessibility needs without additional costs.

Here are my top 12 tips for inclusive communication while wearing a face mask:

  1. Pause before your interaction with someone and remember to be fully present. You will need to focus on communicating through your words, voice, eyes and gestures. Project a positive, respectful and calm attitude.
  2. Be aware of the environment. Check whether the person has glasses or hearing aids on, if needed. Try to reduce any background noise, for example turn off the radio or TV, or move to a quieter space.
  3. Find out from others what the persons preferred communication is and use technology if helpful.
  4. Consider purchasing a mask with a clear window. This is important for people who use British sign language or lip read. You should also check whether it meets your organisation’s standards for PPE.
  5. If possible, make sure you are at eye level with the person.
  6. Smile with your eyes and voice, affectionately known as a Smize. People can hear and see your smile in the tone of your voice and glint in your eyes.
  7. Speak clearly, slowly and slightly louder than you would normally, pausing regularly to give time for the person to process what you are saying. Use fewer words: often we use a lot of filler words and sometimes it is hard to pick out the most important information. This is particularly hard if there are concentration issues because of pain or impairment
  8. Use gestures, where possible, to accentuate important words or information.
  9. Summarise what you have discussed and ask for feedback. This will ensure the person has understood what you have said.
  10. Keep the session short and go back if necessary.
  11. Write important stuff down. The person may want to refer to this or to show it to others.
  12. Accept that inclusive communication takes extra time and plan for this.

Disabled people and people from LGBTQ+ and minoritised racial communities have the right to culturally competent services that are inclusive and accessible. Modelling best practice also builds trust amongst these groups in their communities.

For my Churchill Fellowship, I travelled to Canada and Australia to explore advocacy approaches addressing mental health among LGBTQ+ communities. Since then, I have continued to work across equality, diversity and inclusion issues, with the mantra that “No one is equal until we are all equal.” I have recently become an independent consultant to focus on advocacy, change, equality and leadership.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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