Masks create communication challenges within the deaf community

Posted at 6:03 PM, May 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-24 20:48:24-04

The new practice of wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 has become an added barrier within the deaf and hard of hearing community.

At the Montana School for the Deaf & Blind, they rely a lot on facial expressions for social interaction with their community. But these days having to wear a mask all the time makes communicating a little bit different.

We spoke with MSDB principal Paul Furthmyre, and he says its been quite difficult for the community. "You will find that many of our deaf and hard of hearing students as well as staff rely on lip-reading, but also that their language has a high level of expression. When you can't read the expressions off the person's face, a lot of communication could be misinterpreted from each other."

Teacher Tearra Donovan explains she can speak with her friends through social distancing, but when a mask is on, it gets in the way. "So the masks, I feel pretty stuck, and ...I feel like I'm totally missing out on what's going on with the mask. It's hard for me. If I have a mask, then it's hard for other people to understand because you're missing the part of the language that's in the facial expressions and on the face, and so you end up having to gesture more, and it's less language and more pantomiming. I guess it's the new normal, but hopefully not forever."

Brend Lemieux teaches life skills at the school, and she says these kids are missing out on prime education being stuck at home. "They might be able to give them basic signs some basic communications, but the home communications are limited. It's...not all parents and siblings can sign well."

She also wants things to go back the way they were: "I really miss my kids. I really miss them being here, I miss seeing my staff for the support and the socializing, but I really miss my kids."