Masks, social distancing impacts deaf community

Local News

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Wearing masks and practicing social distancing are important parts of the fight against the coronavirus, but it can create challenges for many people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Deron Emmons, a board member at the Deaf Community Resource Center is culturally deaf, meaning he prescribes to deaf cultures and he uses American Sign Language to communicate. Like many of us adjusting to the “new normal” caused by the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing and wearing masks has been a challenge.

“It’s an adjustment for me just like it is for hearing people. Our lives are changed and it has been a challenge for me just like it has been for everybody else,” Emmons said.

“We can’t go to restaurants and we can’t go in so I have to go through the drive-thru and that’s not something that’s accessible for a deaf person,” he explained. “There’s one coffee place I tend to go to, they know me. So when I go there, the next car goes and I just pull up and I just kind of wave at them and gesture my coffee and they know what I want.”

While not every deaf person has the same needs, he says there are simple things everyone can do to boost communication during this time.

“The importance is that the person on the other end of that communication is also willing to be flexible,” he said.

At Kettering Health, clinicians are no stranger to language barriers. Their doctors and staff use a Marti communicator for ASL interpreters.

At Premier, doctors began using a special face mask with a clear mouth covering just a few weeks ago.

“A patient who is deaf or hard of hearing will be able to see the lips of the person who is providing care for them. We always want to make sure our patients understand the treatment that they’re getting,” said Tim Rezash, Director of patient experience at Premier.

Both hospitals also use interpreters. For members of the public, effectively communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be as simple as making eye contact, asking someone how they want to communicate, and keeping a positive attitude.

“If something happens where you know someone didn’t come through the drive-thru or didn’t stop at the speaker and just came up to the window, maybe there’s a reason. Don’t try to get bent out of shape like they’re not following the rules, maybe there’s a reason,” Emmons said.

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