Mask mandates create new problem for people who are deaf, hard of hearing

Posted at 5:51 AM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 06:51:09-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Local governments have issued mask mandates to slow the spread of coronavirus, but the orders have created a communication barrier for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

In Kansas, a statewide mask mandate went into effect on Friday, July 3. Kansas joined local governments in the Kansas City area requiring masks to be worn in public.

The biggest problem masks pose for deaf and hard of hearing people is the inability to see facial expressions or read lips.

“It feels like starting all over again. I have to figure out how to communicate. I have to figure out a new way to educate people on how to communicate with me," explained Lucy Crabtree, who is hard of hearing.

Micki Keck is deaf and explained one encounter where communicating with a mask proved difficult.

“I recently confronted a person that I put a piece of paper up to say, 'I’m deaf.' And they were speaking under the mask and I couldn’t see the mouth movement. They kept doing that. I tried to explain and showed them on paper, 'I’m deaf.' And they kept talking under their mask," Keck said.

Crabtree said she supports mask mandates, but added she thinks twice about going out in public.

“It does make me a little bit nervous about being out in public because of how I interact with people, how can I interact with a server at a restaurant for example," she said.

Keck is an independent living advocate for deaf services at The Whole Person. She said people who can hear have an important responsibility.

“If hearing people see a deaf person, then they should be willing to show open willingness to write things down. Text message they can show me. Maybe back up 10 feet. Gesture maybe a little bit," Keck said.