It has been eight months since the US began quarantine. We’ve had to adjust our work schedules, class teachings, fun activities, stressors, and our all-around social dynamic. While every age and community has dealt with this differently, there is one community that is arguably affected in a slightly more isolating way.
With the incorporation of masks and social distancing into daily life, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) community has lost key points of their communication during this pandemic.
Sign language is all about visual expressions and hand placement. By putting on a mask, you’re basically taking away a huge aspect of their language.
In spoken language, a huge part of our ability to communicate is through tone, expression and phrasing. What would happen if we were to put a muzzle on someone and expect them to communicate properly? You can’t look at someone with duct tape over their lips and say, “Sorry can you speak clearer?”
Have you ever tried to read lips? Statistically speaking, a deaf individual cannot actually read lips but they can see patterns in someone they are already familiar with and just guess or infer what they’re about to say next.
Cue the invention of the see-through facemask. On paper this is a great idea because it means you can see my lips; you can see what facial expression I’m making but, in reality, the mask fog up too fast and can get really hot and uncomfortable due to the type of plastic material it’s made out of.
It’s unfortunate to say that, even here on campus during sign language club meet ups, a lot of students come to me, as the president, complaining or concerned that they’re unable to fully understand what I’m trying to show them due to half of my expression disappearing or them not really knowing what the placement is on my face.
Lucky for us, I can always stop using my hands and start using my voice, but the deaf community and HoH community can’t always do that. I have a lot of deaf friends who are impacted by this and have been isolated even more than they may have ever felt before.
It’s important to recognize this because there is a whole society of people who are now unable to go into a store and guesstimate where the employee is guiding them. Now they have to revert back to tapping on their shoulder, specifically saying that they are deaf and asking for help via notepad, phone text or guidance. This is something they’ve always had to do but now the need has increased. There’s a whole group of people who are not aware of when someone is speaking to them and now can no longer see in their peripheral vision that someone’s mouth is moving unless they really look at the person.
If there’s one thing I can ask, it would be to be patient and understanding when someone isn’t able to understand you right away or when someone comes over with a new paper explaining that they can’t hear your help and would like to talk to you. There are many different ways that the deaf can communicate in our hearing world… but the pandemic has not helped in any way.
Angelique Inchierca can be contacted at: