Sisters Brianne and Kerry Burger are both deaf. Brianne lipreads but has had to adapt to the “new normal” in which most people wear mouth-obscuring masks in public.
Courtesy of Brianne Burger
“I worry about how hospital staff won’t be familiar with any form of visual communication,” says Robb Dooling, who is deaf.Courtesy of Robb Dooling
The new norms of the coronavirus era — wearing face masks, maintaining social distance and conducting conversations through teleconference software — have made life more complicated for many of us. But for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, they have transformed quotidian tasks into technological labyrinths, and exposed a number of inequities in local health and government systems.
The Washington region has one of the largest populations per capita of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States. The District’s deaf community is largely concentrated around Gallaudet University and the H Street Corridor.
One of the most well-documented pandemic challenges is communicating through face-obscuring masks.
The masks make it impossible for people who read lips to see people’s mouths or follow facial expressions during essential trips to the grocery store or doctor’s office. Facial expressions like nose crinkles and mouth movements are also components of American Sign Language.
Over the past few weeks, manufacturing companies and media outlets have been touting clear face masks as a quick and straightforward fix to the problem.