A BERKSHIRE local whose social media post about the frustrations of lipreading during the pandemic went viral is launching a national campaign to encourage organisations to become more deaf aware.

Simon Houghton hopes his campaign will reduce isolation for people with hearing difficulties as lockdown restrictions ease – with national and international organisations already expressing an interest.

Simon's post in which he shared that he was sick of having to apologise for being deaf during the pandemic prompted him to create #WeSupportDeafAwareness, which is officially launching on April 12 at The Oracle Shopping Centre in Reading.

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“Deafness is a ‘hidden disability’, and people with hearing difficulties already feel isolated,” explains Simon.

He added: “For many deaf people, they rely on lipreading, and the pandemic has made communication almost impossible with the need to stay safe and wear masks.

"Many employees in essential services have not understood just how difficult it is to communicate without the ability to lipread, and have not had the awareness training to manage this effectively.

"Some simply do not seem to understand what is meant by ‘lipreading’, and many have been reluctant to take their masks off, even when maintaining social distances.

“It’s been stressful enough visiting essential services during lockdown; after April 12th we are in danger of being isolated further, with many more businesses set to open.

"A lot of people who are deaf will just want to avoid the shops, but I think that’s wrong; we need to come out of our shells – and #WeSupportDeafAwareness aims to create a society in which we feel confident to do that.

"One which is more empathetic, kind and understanding – ultimately treating all employees and customers with the same level of respect, without judgement."

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#WeSupportDeafAwareness consists of training and promotion.

There is online deaf awareness training which is free for charities, not-for-profit and businesses with turnover of less than £2million per year.

Larger businesses are encouraged to make a “pay as they value” donation.

The training will teach employees to be more empathetic to the needs of customers and colleagues with a hearing impairment, provide them with greater awareness about what it is like to be deaf, as well as tips that will help them to better communicate with the deaf or hard of hearing.

In addition to the training, the campaign is raising awareness through promotion, encouraging the organisations that sign up for the training to display the #WeSupportDeafAwareness signs in their reception areas, offices, shop fronts and online to show that their staff have been trained and that they understand the hidden disability.

Andy Briggs, General Manager of The Oracle Shopping Centre, Reading, said: “We are excited to be part of #WeSupportDeafAwareness as we realise just how difficult it is for shoppers who rely on lip-reading to hear with masks still so prevalent.

"At the Oracle we aim to be all inclusive and want everyone to enjoy coming to the centre, so we are 100% behind the campaign and supporting our retailers to deliver an enjoyable, stress-free shopping experience for all."