October 21, 2020

COVID-19: What the Deaf Community Wants Everyone to Know

The following is adapted from an op-ed originally published in The Gazette and written by Kelsey Sandella, The IC’s formerWoman with cloth facemask talks to man with clear facemask Community Organizing Assistant.

When this year started, no one expected a global pandemic that would change the way of the world. Wearing masks, gloves, and handwashing to a personal theme song is now the new norm. Adjusting has been a challenge for everyone, but it has been especially difficult for d/Deaf or hard of hearing individuals.

Many individuals, like myself, who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing need to be able to read lips to communicate. Now that everyone’s lips are covered, access to communication has come to a screeching halt. This can be stressful, tiring, and sometimes downright scary. The simplest of task (going through a drive-thru, buying groceries, getting an oil change) has become a struggle of, “What did they say? Are they talking to me?”

My story is not unique. According to the 2012 Colorado census, there are 5,187,582 people living in Colorado and of those people, 446,132 are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. It is safe to assume those numbers have gone up as the population has increased. In my role at The IC, I heard numerous negative communication experiences from d/Deaf and hard of hearing consumers and coworkers. Their experiences share a common theme: a lack of awareness around their needs. Education is the first step to making lasting changes.

So how can we support our d/Deaf and hard of hearing community members?

• Read “Simple Solutions: Communicating During COVID-19” below.
• Buy disposable face masks with clear windows online from companies such as Safe ‘N’ Clear (safenclear.com) and ClearMask (theclearmask.com).
• Reusable clear window masks can be found on Etsy, with prices from $8-$12.
• Make your own clear window mask from patterns online. You can also donate masks through Colorado Mask Project (coloradomaskproject.com).
• Learn basic conversational American Sign Language (ASL) skills. Gallaudet University has free online ASL lessons.
• Be aware, be kind, be patient. A little empathy and support go a long way.

Simple Solutions: Communicating During Covid-19

When communicating with d/Deaf or hard of hearing individuals during this unprecedented time, keep these five simple solutions in mind.

• Be patient and understand that masks cause increased stress and anxiety for those who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing.
• Ask about communication preferences (i.e., lip reading, sign language, written text).
• Speech-to-text apps and/or pen and paper are good options for those who prefer written text. Avoid physical contact when choosing this communication method.
• To aid those who rely on lip reading, wear clear or transparent masks that show the mouth.
• Choose to wear a face shield in combination with social  distancing. Remove non-transparent masks to aid those who rely on lip reading; replace when finished.
• Face the individual while speaking and speak clearly. (Do not shout. This only distorts sound.)