Healthy Living: COVID restrictions impacting deaf community

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The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting many communities, but it has posed some pretty unique challenges for the deaf community.

Social distancing and mask-wearing have brought attention to the impacts those restrictions are having on people who rely on reading lips to hear and communicate with others and some are also realizing for the first time that they have hearing difficulties.

Dr. Drew Oliveira is the senior executive medical director with Regence and he says, "People who have difficulty hearing, the use of the mask can muffle speech, as well as being farther away using physical distancing so it’s hard for them to actually hear and understand what someone else is saying." 

In a world of video calls and meetings with multiple screens, it can be really challenging for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to be able to figure out who is saying what, and what is being said.  So here are a couple of things Dr. Oliveira says you can do if you or someone you know is experiencing this challenge, "If they need to access healthcare, do it through a telehealth visit." 

You can also seek out one-on-one online visits, and be clear about your barriers, ask them to speak louder and slower, and have someone there with you to make sure you’re not missing anything.  Now if you need to make a personal office visit, Dr. Oliveira says see if you can bring someone with you so that they can help interpret what has been going on. If you aren’t hearing impaired, but want to do your part to lift this burden for others, there are a few things you can do.  

Dr. Oliveira says one thing is by changing up the mask you wear, "Many masks now come with clear plastic that still are safe and effective in eliminating some of the transmission of the virus." 

The clear masks will allow people to see your lips moving and understand what is being communicated. During this pandemic many people have taken it upon themselves to learn a new skill, "It might be an opportunity for us to learn a new skill like sign language."

Dr. Oliveira says it's really important if we don’t experience these challenges, that we are patient and understanding with people who are. He says hearing loss is gradual and it is not unusual for people to wait for years to be seen by a professional. If you are noticing some of these challenges, he says don’t delay the essential appointment because of the pandemic. 

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