Masks making it difficult for deaf people to communicate

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a communication problem in the deaf community.

Masks and facial coverings are essential in the fight against the virus, but they make it hard for deaf people like Alene White to communicate.

White teaches sign language at the University of Memphis and spoke with WREG by using her colleague Sherye Fairbanks to interpret.

“It’s important to communicate,” White said.

But masks make it impossible to lip read and tough to sign. Deaf people rely on facial expressions to sign, and many of those expressions come from the part of the face that is covered.

Communication is particularly hard for White when she goes to the store.

Most of the employees don’t know how to sign, and when she tries to type out messages on her phone, they don’t want to touch the phone or get close enough to read it. That’s after she gets their attention, which is uncomfortable for her to do these days.

“In the deaf culture, tapping people on the shoulder, very common,” Fairbanks said. “(Right now) you’re not supposed to do that.”

White’s friend had a similar problem at the store recently. She said she wrote what she needed on a piece of paper, but no one would help her.

“It was very frustrating,” White said. “So she just left.”

White hopes people will read this and be more mindful of the deaf community.

“Deaf are humans, too. We’re all the same, and we need to be equal,” White said.

She also said she’s happy to see government officials using interpreters when they make announcements online or on TV.

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