This pandemic has had so many people struggling in different ways, but when I read this article, it really opened up my eyes to how those in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Communities have struggled. Thinking of my own children throughout a pandemic and having to do remote learning, and how hard it was for me as their parent to assist without a language barrier. I can only imagine the stress both caregivers and children were facing when this was their reality.
Amanda Cooper is a mom to 8-year-old Cason, who is deaf. When she was notified about remote learning, she stated “It was just extremely frightening. I know within my heart that I could not provide for Cason with what he needed, as much as the teachers at his school could.” They had a language barrier Amanda was learning sign but was nowhere close to being fluent. Having to assist her son with math, science and language but not being able to communicate it effectively would indeed be an added stressor to an already stressful time. 90% of children who are deaf are born to hearing parents, so this was a reality for so many families. One teacher in Oregon knew this and on the last day before the shut down, she took the time to sign out the events unfolding for her students. She knew that most families would not be fluent enough to sign this information to their children so she explained what was happening and what COVID was to her students.
This pandemic took a toll on everyone’s social life and in turn mental health. Most children thrive from the interaction with their peers and friends and being told to isolate and stay at home had a big impact. For those children who are deaf or hard of hearing and live with hearing siblings and caregivers it could feel even more isolating. They do not have their peers and teachers to communicate with. They could watch their siblings go out in the neighborhood and play with friends and neighbors but as much as some of them may try to communicate with them, it is just not the same. That child would then feel left out and may think about what they are missing and this could further affect their mental health. The same teacher from Oregon, Mrs. Corce, started a “Deaf Club” and they would meet virtually. It was a place where deaf or hard of hearing students could come together and socialize. To many students this was the one thing they looked forward to each week. As much as technology was a godsend during this pandemic it did not replace the need for human connection. Hlibok Amann stated “The Deaf community valued very much human connection. Now going virtually, students feel that they’re losing that- engaging through a screen. And they have those human connection experiences through a screen. But quite honestly, it’s not the same, it’s not equivalent to that classroom experience.”
If you did not think language barrier and lack of human connection was bad enough lets throw face masks into the mix. ASL is not just spoken with the hands but with facial expressions. With face masks, so much of the language has lost its impact. For those who rely on lip reading to help fill in the gaps, they are no longer able to do this. Clear masks or face shields can help alleviate this barrier but it is encouraged to remove any face covering if possible.
This article was powerful for me and made me realize just how many different things that if you do not face you do not understand. I pray for this pandemic to come to an end and that all students can return to “normal”, whatever that may be. I will be more conscious in my ways of communicating and observing with those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Garrand, D. (October 29, 2020). The Pandemic’s Impact on Kids in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community – and How Parents and Educators are Creating Their New Normal. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kids-in-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing-community-pandemic-impact-parents-educators-american-sign-language/