Face masks are creating a huge challenge for the deaf community

HOUSTON – Wearing a face mask is the new normal for us, especially with a mask mandate in many local counties, but it’s been especially tough for the deaf community. Reading lips is among their main communication tools and the mask prevents that.

“It’s been very difficult because I feel like I’ve been ignored, I’ve been ostracized, it’s important for hearing people who work in the community to acknowledge that,” said Patricia from Conroe. “It is very difficult for deaf people really as a whole to be able to communicate. We usually have to adapt when we go to a grocery store or doctor’s office but with the mask, it’s just an extra barrier.”

Patricia is deaf and relies on lip-reading to communicate with people who don’t use sign language. She’s concerned and wants to get the word out about the mask difficulties for those who are deaf.

“Because of these masks there is no way for me to communicate with anyone who doesn’t know sign language,” said Patricia. “I just feel bad for all of those in my community that are unable to get the communication because of the masks.”

Some people are scared to interact

A recent encounter she had at the grocery store is just one example.

“When the cashier has his mask over his face and trying to explain something to me, like how much it costs, I have no way of understanding what he is saying,” she explains. “I would gesture to him, that I can’t understand, I can’t understand, I can’t hear, I’m deaf. The cashier just got up and left, because he was so clueless about how to interact with me.”

You may notice during press conferences the interpreter is not wearing a mask. That is because, in American Sign Language, the facial movements and expressions are the grammar of the language.

Communicating with a deaf person while wearing masks

Patricia says don’t avoid communicating with a deaf person. Just try your best to communicate.

“It’s important to understand that deaf people have great use of gestures. If you encounter a deaf person it’s really great to just act it out,” said Patricia, “When in doubt, act it out if you don’t know how to communicate with a deaf person. It’s really easy for us to understand and make those connections.”

You could also write a note, but Patricia says if you do, use simple words.

“Deaf people don’t usually have a very good understanding of written English because English is not our first language,” said Patricia.

There are masks with clear cutouts in the center, but those are hard to find and many people don’t have them. They also tend to fog up. There is also a good selection of these types of masks on ETSY.