Coronavirus: Deaf community facing challenges during pandemic

Face masks have made it nearly impossible for those in the deaf community to communicate. Masks with clear cut outs have helped. (KIRO7.com/KIRO7.com)

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Face masks have made it nearly impossible for those in the deaf community to communicate. Masks with clear cut outs have helped. (KIRO7.com/KIRO7.com)

The pandemic is adding another level of stress for the deaf community. Face masks have made it nearly impossible to communicate.

Wearing face masks is recommended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but it's a huge communication barrier for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“When people are wearing masks, and I have a question, I can’t hear or understand the answer,” said Laura Gramer, a board member for the Hearing, Speech and Deaf Center for the Puget Sound region.

“We as people who are deaf and hard of hearing, we hone different skills and strategies to make communication more smooth and clear. When one of our strategies is taken away, such as being able to see language on the mouth, then we are kind of off balance and have to regroup,” said Gramer.

Using an American Sign Language interpreter, Gramer explained how this can further alienate the deaf community during an already challenging time.

Gramer understands the need for face masks and appreciates how people are now starting to make clear ones, especially for those in the health care industry, which is exactly what one Pacific Northwest teen started doing.

“So far, the most meaningful was for a married couple close to giving birth,” a board member for the Hearing Speech and Deaf Center for the Puget Sound region. “They wanted to use these to communicate with their doctor more effectively."

However, clear masks are not easy to find, The HSDC is hoping people can donate their time and resources, as Kim has done, to help their neighbors in need.

“One in 3 people has some sort of connection to hearing loss. They are either deaf or hard of hearing themselves or they have a family member. We are all in this together, but my experience may be different from yours. How can we bridge that gap to come together?” said HSDC Executive Director Lindsay Klarman.

Klarman commends King County and Seattle officials and Gov. Jay Inslee for prioritizing access to communication by having an interpreter at their press briefings. It’s a reminder that inclusion is crucial, now more than ever.

“We do feel more detached, so I would ask that people try to remember to be patient, to be compassionate,” said Gramer.

The Hearing, Speech and Deaf Center has information on how you can donate and make clear masks on its website: https://www.hsdc.org/.

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