Signing behind the mask

Thando of Visionary Visual Voices

A drive that remembers the deaf community in times of wearing cloth masks

Although the number of people who use sign language in South Africa hasn’t been determined, there are approximately 700 000 to 1 million people who use sign language in South Africa.

Most deaf who people use lip reading and facial expressions to understand people daily face a lot of daily challenges especially in the Covid-19 pandemic because they we need to use masks daily which makes it difficult for them.

Thando Mtsweni has been involved in raising deaf awareness since 2015. She has created an awareness movement to educate the hearing community on the challenges faced by the deaf community especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. Deaf people face a lot of communication barriers daily and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new barrier which is wearing a cloth mask.

Wearing a cloth mask means that Deaf people cannot make full use of Sign Language because signing requires one to use facial expressions to comprehend the meaning of words. Other deaf people who were not born deaf acquired spoken language before becoming deaf and they now rely on lip-reading to communicate with the hearing community. They can no longer lip read when wearing cloth masks in public areas especially in grocery stores, in the taxi, shopping malls and at the hospital. This has increased communication barriers they face.

Thando has collaborated with a manufacturing company called Busanitextiles; they have designed and manufactured transparent masks to help the deaf community with their day to day communication challenges.

“ We need to create more inclusive spaces where life will be more accessible for Deaf people. I hope to raise enough funds to be able to produce and deliver free masks to all Deaf schools in Gauteng starting with Sizwile School for the Deaf as I have approached this school and they are in serious need of transparent masks. Communication is impossible when they are wearing normal masks and teachers are also struggling to teach in Sign Language with normal masks on. I hope to make people realise these challenges and get involved in this movement to drive change”, said Thando

People can support the deaf awareness campaign by buying and wearing the transparent mask for R80 which will be contributed to this initiative. You take photos wearing the transparent masks with the “I love you” sign on our Instagram page with the #visual voices Visionary_visualvoices or contact

Thando is also working on an online platform to teach the hearing community sign language so that they will be able to interact properly with the deaf community on a daily base.

By Yami Nhlenyama