In latest developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is wearing masks. This creates significant challenges for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, however.
If you know me, you probably know my mother was born profoundly deaf. Having a deaf parent affords me the ability to empathize, at least a little, with people who need inclusive design. Though there remains so much that we can do to be more inclusive for all people, right now I’m worried about my mom.
While my mother is deaf, she can also hear with technology. My mother has two cochlear implants and is able to understand quite a bit of speech due to tenacity and years studying. I spoke (starting at minute 20:23) and wrote about it last year on just how far the technology has come, and that she can now listen to, and enjoy music like never before. All quite hopeful…
The current crisis, however, is creating a new challenge for her.
Firstly, she struggles to understand others without visual cues from their face. Masks create a significant disadvantage for deaf and hard of hearing. As an example, earlier this week a friend hand-delivered a birthday cake (low contact delivery) to my mother, but my mother couldn’t understand the friend because of the mask. Leading my friend to drop her mask. This increases risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The second is she struggles to wear a mask due to her cochlear implants. A deaf or hard-of-hearing person who uses hearing aids or cochlear implants may find that masks that go over the ears or tie around the head can interfere with their hearing assistive devices. The majority of masks work this way, thus finding masks that work, or making their own becomes challenging.
What You Can Do
- Wear a mask that keeps your lips visible.
- DHH Mask Project: While they are no longer taking mask requests, they have provided this tutorial for other mask makers to be able to make masks to allow deaf and hard-of-hearing people to still see your mouth when you speak.
- Make a clear mask with a headband and a page protector.
- Try an App that translates speech to text. I hear good things about: