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COVID-19 and The Deaf Community

As the world begins to re-open following the COVID-19 virus by allowing more in person activities, the deaf and hard of hearing community faces new challenges. 

COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. 20 months later the United States is still dealing with the consequences. COVID-19 has changed many aspects of daily life. While some people struggle to adjust to the new world, there is a community of people who struggle to communicate in the new world.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing are now face-to-face with new communication barriers. From social distancing to wearing masks, communicating with others in public has become difficult. In addition to masks most stores are requiring six feet of distance and plexiglass separating a customer from a worker. Unfortunately, all these precautions are creating additional hearing barriers between the hearing and the deaf. 

Anthony Ornelas is a cashier at H-E-B, a grocery store in Austin, Texas. The store Ornelas works at has many customers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Throughout the pandemic Ornelas has found ways to communicate effectively with his customers.

“The notes app in my phone is the best way, I can type a message and show it to the customer,” said Ornelas. 

            Smart phones are a great resource for those who want to accommodate to deaf or hard of hearing people. You can utilize the notes app to type out a message as Ornelas said, or you can also use the speech to text function for a quicker form of communication. In addition to a smart phone there are more ways those who are hearing can assist those who are deaf. Keeping pen and paper on hand to jot down a message works just as well as a smart phone. In addition to these options, you can also learn a basic knowledge of sign language. 

            While there are many options to be mindful of the members of the deaf and hard of hearing community, there are some methods that aren’t helpful at all. Raquel Leblanc, a deaf woman out of New Brunswick, Canada explains that raising your voice is in no way helpful to those who are deaf.

            “Speaking louder with a mask on, I don’t think it works for deaf people, and it especially doesn’t work with me,” Leblanc said.

Leblanc has faced many struggles throughout the pandemic. Since Leblanc relies solely on lipreading as her main source of communication, she was forced to put a pause on attending school, even online. Since in person classes are taught with a teacher masking up, in person was no longer an option, but neither was online classes. 

 “I can’t understand through headphones it’s just way too complicated for me,” said Leblanc. 

Leblanc finds that reading lips through a screen is far too difficult. Leblanc simply felt that online classes weren’t a solution for her. Leaving her to delay her education journey until a better alternative arises. 

            The main alternative to in person classes remains to be remote learning. Schools such as the school for the blind had even opted for a remote based learning.

Alex Hughes works as a student aid at the Texas school for the Blind which serves students who are visually impaired and or hearing impaired. When COVID-19 hit Austin, Texas, The Texas School for the Blind initially committed to a fully remote learning model. Hughes said that while this adjustment to online learning was necessary to comply with COVID-19 precautions there were issues.  

“Because of how rushed this transition was there was a serious amount of trial and error and how to handle remote learning,” said Hughes.

            As our society begins to re-open, those who are hearing must remember that the deaf community is still encountering many communication barriers. 

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