Deaf Tesco worker faces complaints for asking shoppers to lower masks to lipread

A deaf Tesco worker has told of the discrimination she has faced during the pandemic after receiving complaints for not being able to understand customers wearing masks.

Melanie Muir, from Nottingham, said there have been times when she’s wanted to ‘walk out’ of her job as a customer assistant at an Express store in Castle Boulevard.

The 47-year-old has been deaf since she was a baby and relies on lipreading to communicate but since the mandatory use of face masks was introduced, Melanie has had difficulty communicating. Although she wears a cochlear implant, it only helps her to recognise sounds such as a phone ring, a door knock, or a dog bark.

To understand her colleagues or customers, Melanie needs people to face her so she can lip read – but she has received discriminatory comments from some customers after asking them to momentarily lower their mask.

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Melanie said: ‘The regulars have been absolutely lovely and my team has also been great in supporting me.

‘But since lockdown happened there’s been a few daft, discriminative complaints but I often ask one of the team to help. I’m just trying to do my job.

‘I have had some people not wanting to remove the mask and continue to shout at me through the mask when I have no idea what they are saying.

‘A recent one was from a guy who rang in as soon as he walked out the shop. His complaint was unbelievable, asking “why is there a deaf person on the till?” and claiming there are no signs when there are two and I have a badge on.

‘I feel it’s such a stupid thing to say, it’s rude and offensive, not just to me but to all those who are deaf too. We’re just deaf, not daft.

‘We are more than capable of doing things. It made me feel awful that my team is subjected to this.’

After having to remind people more regularly about their masks, the worker found a legal notice on a deaf community site and puts it on display when she is working on the tills.

But Melanie said she continues to encounter problems that leave her feeling down and worried when she starts a shift in case someone is offensive towards her.

She said: ‘There seem to be more problems now. I know most people must be frustrated too with everything going off. We are all in the same boat.’

‘There has been times where I just wanted to cry or walk out, I have to pull myself together and just get on with it,’ the worker added.

‘I do want to keep working there, they are my work family and we support one another, that’s what keeps me motivated.’

Melanie hopes that by sharing her story, she can make people more aware of what the deaf community faces during the pandemic, particularly if they rely on lipreading alone.

‘Please show a little more consideration and be kind. It doesn’t hurt to pop your mask down for a moment, just to communicate, you can still keep your distance,’ she added.

A Tesco spokesperson said: ‘Everyone is welcome at Tesco, and we have measures in place to ensure that all our colleagues and customers with disabilities feel safe and at ease when they are shopping and working with us.

‘The challenges of recent months mean that now, more than ever, we need to think about taking care of each other and we are really proud of the team at our Castle Boulevard Express who working closely with Mel to give her the support that she needs.

‘We would also like to thank our customers for understanding and helping to communicate clearly with Mel.’

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