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Masking Changed My Experience of Being Deaf

by Rachel Kolb, adapted by Tabitha Beam – I’m sorry for participating in the deaf apocalypse. When my hearing roommate and I pulled our masks over our mouths during the pandemic, she would apologize for making communication even harder for me. Face masks can create challenges for people like me who communicate through lipreading. I saw streets filled with featureless people, their speech now indecipherable. Over the last two years, I’ve learned new ways of expressing myself. I have used my smartphone Notes app to type and chat with others. It was so much clearer than trying to read lips. Even for an experienced lipreader, certain bits of spoken English always end up blurred or missing. Lipreading involves much guessing. Mask wearing affected my use of sign language as well: The facial expressions, so important for conveying grammatical meaning in ASL, had also vanished. I wandered the grocery-store aisles looking at other shoppers’ faces, to figure out if anyone had said anything. I now needed to explain—even insist upon—my deafness in every single interaction. I began to gesture “deaf”, my hand on my ear, followed by motions for writing things down. I used devices for speech recognition and displaying large text. And yet, in my experience, such spoken-language frustrations have become less common, perhaps because of everything the past couple of years have brought to the surface. Hearing friends have taken time to learn more ASL. Masking has persisted in medical settings, but they are adapting. The interpreter I’d requested had a clear-paneled mask, and so did everyone else. Even the receptionist whipped one on as soon as I approached. The gesture felt profound. “Thank you guys so much,” I said. “No problem,” I saw the receptionist say, her smile visible behind the plastic. “It’s really the least we can do.”
– Read the full article: https://bit.ly/3Di680V

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