Coronavirus: Team GB athlete Olivia Breen warns of difficulties over face masks for deaf people

Breen: "When I say to people 'I'm deaf' and show them my hearing aids, I have to say to them please can you stand back and take off your mask because it's impossible"

Rebecca Williams, Sky Sports News reporter

Thursday 30 July 2020 15:32, UK

GB Paralympian Olivia Breen has been training at home during the coronavirus pandemic
Image: GB Paralympian Olivia Breen has been training at home during the coronavirus pandemic

A Team GB Paralympic medalist, who is deaf and has cerebral palsy, is warning about the difficulties of lip-reading people wearing masks.

Before lockdown, former Sky Sports scholar Olivia Breen had been preparing for what was to be her third Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Breen developed a meningitis-type illness as a baby, which left her with cerebral palsy. That caused her muscles to weaken and her co-ordination was affected. But sport helped her get stronger.

Olivia Breen celebrates winning bronze  for Wales in the Women's T38 100m Final on day eight of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games
Image: Breen celebrates winning bronze for Wales in the Women's T38 100m final on day eight of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games

While Breen, who is a sprinter and long-jumper, has managed to continue training during the pandemic, she is finding life increasingly difficult now it is compulsory to wear masks in shops.

She told Sky Sports News: "It is really hard. I lip-read a lot and I watch people's mouths. So when people have masks on I can't lip-read and they have it right over their nose.

"So when I say to people 'I'm deaf' and show them my hearing aids, I have to say to them please can you stand back and take off your mask because it's impossible.

"I'm dreading when I go to London or something, getting on public transport. If there is a problem on the train, it is going to be hard.

"I just want to get awareness out there as much as possible and show people how hard it is going to be for deaf people."

Olivia uses a mask with see-through plastic at the front, which she says makes life a lot easier.

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She has been at home with her family during lockdown, but usually trains in Loughborough.

Her goal is to get an individual medal at the Paralympics in Tokyo. Breen was bitterly disappointed the Games were postponed until 2021, but believes it was the right decision to ensure people's safety.

People walk down 16th street after volunteers, with permission from the city, painted "Black Lives Matter" on the street near the White House 1:39
Paralympic bronze medallist Olivia Breen wants athletes to have the right to protest at the Tokyo games next year in support of the Black Lives Matter movement

Current rules state athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics are not allowed to protest, but many, including Breen, are calling for that to change, so they can stand in solidarity with those supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

She said: "I have been dating a black guy and I just think everyone is the same. Don't treat anyone differently.

"Obviously, I am disabled as well. It is quite a similar kind of thing. But just treat everyone the same and be respectful. Everyone has different needs and opinions."

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