How masks have become a communication barrier for the deaf community

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TALLADEGA, Ala. (WIAT) — Lip reading has become a helpful tool for the deaf community. So, when it was time to put on the masks, members of the deaf community like Paul Saunders felt they’ve lost connection with others.

Lip reading is a powerful communication tool for the deaf community.

“I can’t hear them,” Paul Saunders, a member of the deaf community said. “I can’t see what they’re saying, so I don’t really know what to say.”

Principal Paul Saunders at Alabama School for the Deaf. He is the first deaf principal in the school’s history.

Saunders is the principal at the Alabama School for the Deaf. He himself was born deaf. 

The exterior of the Alabama School for the Deaf campus.

“Normally if we did not have masks in the past, I can catch some of what they’re saying on their lips,” Saunders said. “Now that we have masks, it’s such a barrier on me personally.”

It’s also made educating young ones with deafness extra challenging.

“Being deaf, their access to language is already a struggle,” he said. “With signing, we’re depending on expressions, it’s very important to see the whole face. The masks, they make it more of a barrier.”

According to a Gallaudet University study, two to four of every 1,000 people in the US are functionally deaf. 

With that in mind, Saunders would like to see more flexibility for them from the community.

Clear masks, Saunders suggests, are a preferred mask for those that are deaf. The clear insert allows them to read lips.

“Add clear masks, if you see a deaf or hard of hearing patient coming through, put the clear mask on for communication for the time. Just have those ready.”

In the meantime, Principal Saunders and his staff at the Alabama School for the Deaf are working each day to connect with students – even in the age of an extra communication barrier.


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