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COVID-19 Blog #4

Masks4All: Keeping Each Other Safe

By Yona Lunsky

Last week we heard loud and clear from local, provincial and national governments that wearing a mask is recommended for all in Canada; this includes as many of us as possible.

I have been part of some very informative discussions in the last few weeks with a group of self-advocates about their biggest COVID-related questions and concerns, each of which deserves its own post (see What’s Up Wednesdays to join these discussions). One topic that keeps coming up is masks. Masks have also been a big topic of discussion in our Project ECHO with over 100 disability and health care providers from across Ontario.

At first, the concern was about protection: We need masks for people coming into group homes to protect people with developmental disabilities. We advocated to make sure that all workers had appropriate masks available. Once others started to wear masks around people with developmental disabilities, we had another problem emerge: what happens when someone is uncomfortable seeing a worker with a mask on? A mask can make it harder to hear someone speaking, to understand what is being said, and to read facial cues. It also could look frightening or re-traumatize someone who associates masks with a criminal, or with someone who carried out a distressing health care procedure in the past. People with disabilities, workers, families, clinicians and public health officials have been working together to come up with creative solutions to help people who are not accustomed to seeing others wear masks to get more comfortable.

An example of a creative solution to see smiles through masks (via BBC)Now, Canadian public health officials are explaining that to help reduce the spread of COVID, we should all start wearing masks outside of our homes, especially when physical distancing may be difficult. Breathing, coughing, sneezing or laughing can spread germs from your mouth and nose. When you wear a mask, it helps to stop germs from spreading to people and surfaces near you.

We do know that even when we use some of our best creative strategies, there will be some people who cannot tolerate wearing a mask - and that is okay. If most of us wear a mask, we can help the people who are not able to wear a mask themselves.

An example of a creative solution to see smiles through masks (via BBC)

How to get a mask?

For everyone to wear a mask, including people with developmental disabilities, we have to make it easier to get one. Have you had trouble getting a mask? We can start by sourcing masks for all, recognizing that not everyone can shop online or go to a store to buy them. I saw a post on social media asking if people who make masks could donate some to a community health centre for distribution to people who don’t have one.  I have also read about adults with developmental disabilities making masks for others as a way of helping people in their community. So many of us want to help right now, and this is a great way to help others.

Some masks are more comfortable than others so as a community, we should ensure people with developmental disabilities have access to different styles of masks. And to encourage people to wash their masks after using them, we also need to make sure that everyone has a few masks to wear and not just one.

How to wear a mask?

Once everyone has a mask, let’s make sure everyone knows how to wear one safely. There are three things that people should know how to do properly: Putting on a mask, wearing a mask, and taking off a mask. You know when you get a new pair of shoes, and you are going to wear them to a party? First, you try them on at home and get used to wearing them. The same applies to wearing a mask. This video shows the steps to putting a mask on and taking it off. People can practice doing this at home, so they feel more comfortable when they need to go out. Practice talking with a mask on. Can people understand you? Can you speak loudly and clearly while wearing a mask? Use a timer to help practice wearing a mask for longer periods of time - start with one minute and slowly work your way up.

It is true that some people with developmental disabilities are not leaving their homes very much, if at all right now. But even these individuals will hopefully be spending more time outside soon. It is a really good idea for everyone to get used to putting on a mask before leaving home and taking it off after getting home so you are not touching it while you are out. And remember, there should be a space to put the mask when it is dirty, a space to store clean masks, and a place to wash hands nearby every time the mask is put on or off.

Questions Unmasked

Self-advocates asked some great questions at last week’s What’s Up Wednesday session:

What about when it is hard to wear a mask?I have tried on a few different kinds of masks, which I practice wearing at home. I have a cotton mask that ties at the back of my head. I have a mask with elastic for my ears. Each one fits differently, and it is easier for me to breathe with some masks than others. A mask might be uncomfortable, but a scarf or bandana may not.”

What if I can’t wear a mask at all?If all masks bother you, this is a good thing to talk about with your doctor. Remember that you can make a check-in appointment with your doctor. You are just one person figuring out COVID and masks, but your doctor talks to lots of different people, some who may have the same problems as you, and might have some very good ideas. We can work together to figure out ways to keep you and the people you are with as safe as possible if you can’t wear a mask”

Why isn’t everyone wearing a mask? “Remember, it may not be obvious why another person can’t wear a mask. It is important that we trust and accept that most of us are wearing masks if we can. Don’t judge if you see someone not wearing a mask. Instead, find out how to be supportive, for example, by helping people to find masks or teaching them how to wear one.” 

We have seen masks on others, and now it is time we wear masks ourselves, if we can. So let’s get creative and think about how we might make owning and wearing masks easier for as many people as possible.  Share your creative ideas with us by email or on social media @hcardd.

Still feeling confused about masks? Here are some ideas that may help:


Other Links on Masks