Right now, you might feel cut off from your usual modes of communication. You can’t get together with friends or gather in public places. However, have you considered how challenging life would be if you couldn’t hear another human voice, even over the phone? 

That’s how life feels for millions of the hearing impaired. Now that everyone is wearing a mask when they head outdoors, the world has transformed into a sea of mute eyes, and those who rely on lip-reading find themselves plunged into silence. One student innovator recently created surgical masks with transparent windows to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing community. 

The Increased Isolation of Deaf People During COVID-19

Seemingly overnight, streets that once bustled with traffic transformed into wastelands devoid of human life. With everyone following social distancing regulations, life has retreated inside the home. Many people manage the isolation and boredom by chatting more frequently online. 

However, even as everyone takes precautions, people run out to get groceries and visit hospitals when necessary. When they do, individuals can exchange a few in-person words. Many folks never realized how critical this person-to-person contact could seem until recently. However, one group was left out — the deaf and hard-of-hearing. 

Ashley Lawrence is a college student studying education for this population. She realized that those who rely on lip-reading face additional challenges during this time, and started a GoFundMe to raise money for the material to make the masks. She designed them with a clear facial cover that allows individuals to read lips and see facial expressions to clarify meaning. Lawrence intends to distribute the masks to anyone in need regardless of whether they are sick or not. Interested parties can contact her at dhhmaskproject @ gmail.com. 

Student Creates Transparent Masks for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Photo: GoFundMe

As everyone scrambles for essential supplies, projects like Lawrence’s fill a critical need. They also serve as lifelines to members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community who now don’t lose their means of communication if a doctor or grocery worker dons a mask.  

The Deaf Already Face Considerable Isolation 

Isolation is a significant challenge for the hearing-impaired. Many members of this community hesitate to ask others to repeat themselves when they miss something. As a result, they miss out on critical components of conversations. Eventually, they may begin to avoid going out unless it is strictly necessary. Interacting with others is an innate human need, and research indicates that loneliness can pose as many health problems as medical conditions do.

Right now, everyone is concerned about their safety. However, members of the hard-of-hearing community have additional reasons to fear. They can’t hear, for example, if someone approaches them from behind. This vulnerability puts them at an increased risk for pickpockets or worse. Furthermore, traffic, even bicycle traffic, poses significant threats. While many community members gravitate toward urban areas to take advantage of expanded health care resources, they may feel unsure about their ability to navigate city streets. 

Those who are deaf may have fears about their ability to perform social distancing. For example, many people rely on their hearing to tell them if someone is too close at the grocery store. They might worry about running into someone else accidentally and flying into a panic. Finally, while many places use visual cues on floors and registers to remind folks of the rules, not all do. This lack increases the sense of perceived danger. 

Helping Your Deaf Loved Ones During Social Distancing 

If you know and love a deaf person, you can take steps to help them feel less alone during this time of social distancing. 

  • Use video calling to stay in touch: This way, you know they don’t miss out on the conversation. When you chat, practice active listening skills by asking questions and paraphrasing things that you aren’t sure you understand. 
  • Use closed captioning on TVs: Right now, everyone is hungry for information, including the hard-of-hearing. Don’t cut your loved ones off from this crucial means of communication. 
  • If you are deaf, ask for support: If you are new to working from home, and you are hard-of-hearing, check with your HR department for any assistive devices you need to perform your essential job functions. 

See-Through Masks Are a Game Changer for the Deaf During Social Distancing

See-through masks can be a godsend for the hard-of-hearing during this time. It’s also crucial to do what you can for the deaf as we navigate unprecedented times together.

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About Author

Kate Harveston covers social justice and human rights issues. She graduated with a Bachelors in English and minored in Criminal Justice, so she enjoys writing about anything related to the intersections of law, politics and culture. For more of her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

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