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“We just want to communicate,” how face masks are a barrier for Deaf community

two women wearing masks as they leave costco
KIFI/KIDK
Two shoppers wear cloth face masks as they leave Costco in Pocatello.

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Face masks create barriers for more than just viruses, they can also be an obstacle for communication.

People who rely on reading lips to communicate are facing a difficult problem: a lot of people are wearing face masks that cover their mouths.

Nearly 13 percent of Idahoans have some sort of hearing loss, according to the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

And while not every Deaf person or person with hearig loss reads lips, many do.

“I don’t think I realized how much I relied on it until this happened and people started wearing masks,” said Jensen Parrish Hall, who's been hard of hearing her whole life.

Majority of people aren't fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), which is already a barrier for the hard of hearing community.

“People who are Deaf, we just want to communicate. It’s just communication. We rely so heavily on lips and gestures, and when that’s covered, that’s a barrier,” Hall said.

Alexander Low, a member of the Deaf community, said he's had the same issues.

“When I go to a new place or meet a new person, and when they both have masks on, that can make it really hard,” Low said.

Low doesn't read lips very well, but when he's using ASL, he relies heavily on facial expressions, he said.

Now, with half of everyone's face covered up, even signing is harder.

“With my Deaf friends, when you have a mask on, it makes it a little more difficult as well because you miss out on some of those cues,” Low said.

But even with these challenges, both Hall and Low want people to keep wearing masks. They just ask people to be patient.

“The worst thing you can do is wave them off or make them feel they’re not important, or be like ‘Never mind, I don’t know how to communicate with you,” Hall said.

There are ways for people to maintain communication even while wearing a mask. Some people have made masks to bridge that communication gap, but not many people have clear masks.

“You’ve gotta try to use gestures, that’s probably the best thing to do. You can sign (words like) ‘drink’ or you can text back and forth. But it’s a challenge because people don’t want to be close right now,” Low said.

Passing notes back and forth has made some people wary of passing the coronavirus, too, Low said. So, he's found that getting people's phone numbers to text back and forth at a distance can help.

Getting creative and being patient is key, Hall said.

Coronavirus Coverage / Idaho / Local News / Pocatello / Top Stories
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Emma Iannacone

Emma is a reporter for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.

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