TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Face masks are meant to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but for the deaf and hard of hearing community, it’s also preventing the ability to speak with and understand others clearly.
Daphne Smith, Regional Day School Program for the Deaf teacher explains that, “with sign language, the grammar of the language is completely in your face. You have to be able to see someone’s face to understand, so when you hide it behind a mask, there isn’t understanding. I often don’t know what they mean.”
During the summer, Smith’s supervisor purchased clear masks for the teachers and interpreters, as well as students who are deaf and hard of hearing to help open back up that avenue of communication. “They’re not a perfect solution because your breath will fog the mask but it’s not a bad solution,” says Brenda Toney, the Interpreter Coordinator for Tyler Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center.
The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it a law for businesses, schools and other entities to make an effort to provide equal access or “opportunity” to everyone.
“Let’s take this college class. Let’s turn off all the lights so we only have a little bit of light coming from the windows. The teacher can’t have a microphone, and they can’t have a PowerPoint, we need to write it on the chalkboard or white board.” Marsha Moore an interpreter describes these circumstances as what it would be like for a deaf or hard of hearing student to navigate their studies without being able to see the lower half of the teacher or interpreter’s face.
This unique school year presents another potential barrier in education; virtual learning. Smith says, “That is a struggle. That’s a communication problem when they’re at home is not having that immediate clarification. I don’t know that, them being a virtual learner, remotely, that they have equal access to the same education as the students in the classroom have.” Smith adds that as frustrating as it can be, she’s working to improve her skills with technology to better serve her students.
Smith also says if you are talking with someone who’s deaf or hard of hearing, know there isn’t one form of communication for them. It’s helpful to take their lead on how they’re comfortable with communicating be it writing things down or miming.