Necessity is the mother of invention (DHH)
We are currently doing work and research with Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) communities, and the pandemic is having profound communication implications around the globe. Not only are many press conferences, federal and local updates more difficult unless accompanied by a translator, but the use (and often requirement) of masks in everyday activities are making communication difficult.
In the US, The National Association of the Deaf and the National Council on Disability have sent letters to the White House asking for ASL interpreters to be available, as they are currently not. In Australia, most all state daily briefings are now including an AUSLAN translator.
But in everyday life, those who are deaf and hard of hearing often rely on lip reading to understand those around them.
55% of communication is visual. Traditional masks block faces and prevent our ability to see facial expressions and emotions, visual cues, and effectively communicate. Sign language is a combination of facial expressions and hand signing - neither is fully effective without the other.
"Mary Beth Pagnella, who has lived with profound hearing loss most of her life, prides herself on being an excellent lip reader. But, amid the coronavirus outbreak, reading lips has become more difficult with state and federal officials recommending, and some requiring, people to wear masks in public. "I feel so lost and out of place because (people) are wearing masks and I cannot read their lips," Pagnella told USA TODAY. "Not being able to hear is hard enough. Now, lip reading is hard, too."
Solutions are starting to come from those in the community, and eventually, with the possibility of long-term wearing of masks a reality, more solutions will arise.
A company recently launched called Clear Mask, LLC has developed a mask that allows users and those they interact with to see their facial expressions. Others will follow. *Mask image courtesy of Clear Mask, LLC
A student named Ashley Lawrence has created the DHH Mask Project, for her local Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in Kentucky, USA. She started making and donating masks to her local hospitals and health care workers who communicate with the deaf community. Her masks took off so much that she has posted a YouTube video for anyone who wants to make these locally:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Pk7hMTtOEq6BlIUys82RAuDs7oxD7fe4 Other industries are starting to develop prototypes of more sophisticated masks for the broader community, with possible additional health benefits, as the realization that covering such a large portion of the face is not only unpleasant but in many cases could be considered unlawful. A company called AO Air has developed a prototype of such a mask that could also benefit those in DHH communities worldwide:
Necessity is truly the mother of invention. How are you serving the DHH community during Covid 19?