May 2020 The Southern News
The pandemic is impacting the lives of people on a global scale that has been unprecedented. It has been a challenging ordeal for everyone. Especially for those who are considered part of the disabled community. I am Deaf, and proud of that fact. An important aspect of my deafness that I always tend explain to my peers is that my deafness does not isolate me. People isolate me. That facet of deafness becomes even more glaringly obvious during this pandemic.
I utilise a cochlear implant. I am decent with lip reading. When I am around hearing people, which is most of the time at Southern, I verbally speak. All that makes me appear not as deaf as I actually am. I tend to make a lot of educated guess in a conversation. The implant, lip reading and contextual conversational clues have allow me to get by without an interpreter. When I have an interpreter then my communication needs become accessible. The issue becomes that people assume I am hearing more than I am or think I am embellishing my deafness. Which causes a lot of miscommunication or rude assumptions aimed at me.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic and all that I have explained becomes a major, blaring headache.
In Connecticut, everyone is required to wear a mask in situations where one cannot social distance. Plus, I think at this point people are wearing masks at all time just for safety’s sake. Masks negate my ability to lipread. If I can lipread then I pretty much struggle with even the most basic chitchats.
At the start if the pandemic I was finishing up the procedures for a root canal. The dentist explained what was going to happen and I had zero clue what he was saying, The implant did not help because there was way too much background noise. This has happened at the bank, grocery store and even with family. I feel like a jerk asking them to remove their mask just for me to comprehend what they are saying. I either get nasty glares or pitying look in their eyes. I do not have x-ray vision and transparent face masks are few and far between.
Online classes have been rough. Without an interpreter, understanding people whole on Zoom, Teams or other video services could be a nightmare. With an interpreter, screen would free either on the interpreter or the speaker. If there are multiple people on a screen like Webex then I am awkwardly leaning forward to ensure I can see the American Sign Language.
When professors upload videos without closed captioning and audio files without transcripts. When students upload videos, they tend to not add closed captioning either from blackboard’s own services or YouTube. I feel like had had less accessibility and felt more frustrated this semester than I did when I was learning in-person at Southern.
I am social distancing and avoiding people as best I can. I am asthmatic and COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that will clothesline me into incapacity. Plus, the isolation that comes with being admitted with the illness for someone who’s deaf frightens me.
They likely would not have the interpreter in the room with me for me to understand what will be happening. I will be lucky if I get one at all as I doubt that is one anyone’s mind in an overtaxed hospital in Norwalk. The main people I would be interacting with would always be wearing masks. Minimum to no information, more isolation than hearing patients and it is a frightening scenario.
According to the National Institute of Health, Deaf patients have better health outcomes when an ASL Interpreter is present.
English, not ASL, is my first language thus I am privileged to be in a better spot than many of my Deaf peers where ASL is their first language. The grammatical structure for ASL and English are drastically different and a lot of the grammar is embedded within facial expressions. The same expressions obscured by masks.
For me, closed captioning would be enough but for other Deaf people… they need an interpreter. That is why you see many ASL interpreters next to governors as they give their briefings/conferences. The White House does not have ASL interpreters which is disappointing. A lot of Deaf people, especially early in the pandemic, had to rely on social media for their information and there is misinformation flying everywhere about COVID-19.
At the end of the day, disabled people from many walks of life are not a priority during emergency scenarios like a pandemic. I know there are easily implemented solutions but I doubt able-body individuals would be willing to put the work in.