(Montreal) Several organizations of deaf and hard of hearing people are calling on Quebec to provide the networks of early childhood centers (CPEs) and health centers with adequate masks with transparent windows.
In an open letter sent to the government, they deplore the cancellation of the last call for tenders in order to provide “new window masks more effective and comfortable than those previously used”.
“This turnaround places hard of hearing people in a difficult and frustrating situation,” wrote Audition Quebec, the Quebec Network for the Social Inclusion of Deaf and Hard of Hearing People and the Quebec Association for Children with Hearing Problems (AQEPA).
In recent months, childcare centers have been given transparent masks imported from abroad for educators. However, these would remain unused because they turned out to be “inadequate” and “uncomfortable”, according to comments collected by the signatory organizations, in addition to misting up easily, transmitting poorly and causing allergies.
However, there is a Quebec alternative. Entreprise Prémont in Louiseville, Mauricie, in collaboration with Audition Quebec, has designed a mask with a transparent window that meets Health Canada requirements.
“It is very comfortable. It does not fog. It is a little harder to breathe, but if it is properly installed, there is no problem. It is also hypoallergenic, ”details the president of Audition Quebec, Jeanne Choquette, to The Canadian Press.
Some CPEs have themselves decided to buy masks from Entreprise Prémont, she mentions.
Quebec canceled the call for tenders due to a quantity of window masks sufficient to restock the entire network for about four months, said the communications directorate of the Ministries of Family and Education.
“For the sake of sound management of public funds, the CAG [le centre d’acquisitions gouvernementales] must dispose of this reserve before launching a new call for tenders. Nevertheless, a reflection is underway for the launching of a new public call for tenders ”, explained the spokesperson Esther Chouinard in an email to The Canadian Press.
Organizations are wondering how these stocks will be sold when masks with transparent windows are left aside in the network.
If she understands that Quebec is first trying to sell its inventory, the interim director general of Audition Quebec, Julie Brousseau, invites her to keep in mind that people are currently facing “a major communication breakdown”.
Children are deprived of lip-reading and facial expressions, “essential to their linguistic and socio-emotional development”, also supports the AQEPA.
“Lip reading for a person with hearing loss can represent up to 40% of the additional information”, explains Mme Brousseau.
Although recommended by Public Health and early childhood experts, the use of window masks is “optional”, underlines the Ministry of the Family.
“The choice of which mask to use according to the type of activity must be made with the constant objective of ensuring the proper development of children. However, it is not required to wear them over a long period, ”adds Mr.me Chouinard.
Equip the entire health network
The signatories of the letter also want the Ministry of Health to launch a call for tenders to equip its entire network with masks with transparent windows made in Quebec. Currently, the purchase decision would be up to each of the establishments.
“We consider that this is not enough. I can tell you that going to see a doctor in a hospital and have a diagnosis explained to you when you understand every fourth word because of his opaque mask, it’s not funny ”, testifies Mr.me Choquette, which supplies its own window masks to healthcare professionals during appointments.
Through the open letter, the wish is also to make the entire population aware of the issues facing people with hearing loss since the start of the pandemic and the importance of masks with transparent windows, mentions Mr.me Brousseau.
Beyond the debate on the quality of these masks, we must not forget that they represent “a basic communication tool” for deaf and hard of hearing people, she argues.
In Quebec, it is estimated that 1.6 million people live with hearing loss.