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For Deaf People Like Me, Mask Mandates Impose Never-Ending Isolation

girl with mask waiting

Trying to be ‘normal’ and have a normal life was always my goal. That has been nearly impossible for nearly two years now.

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Alone. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Empty. Sidelined. Ignored. Dismissed. Did I mention alone? These are just a few of the words that describe what a person who is deaf or hearing-impaired feels like on a daily basis.

It’s not a huge population in our country who have hearing problems, but to us it is a huge burden. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 2-3 babies born in America out of every 1,000 are born with a hearing disability. Add those with people who lose hearing due to trauma, illness, and age, and approximately 15 percent, or 37 million Americans, over the age of 18 report at least some trouble hearing.

I was born with hearing loss in both ears. Since the age of six, I have worn hearing aids. Being hearing-impaired has been a huge life disadvantage. For example, as a child I couldn’t hear the whistle while trying to play sports, and continued playing until I see people laughing or trying to get my attention. I’ve missed jokes because I couldn’t understand the words being spoken. When I laugh, my hearing aids squeal because my ears move and the gap in my ear canals causes feedback.

I only hear parts of sentences and I am constantly having to process, in a fraction of a second, the sounds of words said, then to mentally match those sounds to words I have heard before, then to put the whole sentence together in my mind just to be able to communicate.

Trying to be “normal” and have a normal life was always my goal. That has been nearly impossible for nearly two years now. In spring 2020, the first face mask mandate due to Covid-19 went into effect. I knew I was in trouble.

Not only do I not like things in my face because of incidents in my law enforcement career, it also hurts to have the loops behind my ears when wearing my hearing aids. Couple the pain and discomfort and my mild PTSD with the fact that now I cannot understand a single word spoken to me by someone wearing a mask because I can’t read their lips or see their facial expressions.

I went to a hardware store to look for a specific part, only to get the wrong thing because I couldn’t understand the associate. I got harsh looks from the teller at the bank and a cashier at the grocery store because I asked them to pull down their masks and repeat what they said because I can’t hear. That got me harsh looks from people behind me waiting in line too.

I was told “no” by a store associate that he will not pull his mask down to tell me what I needed, for fear that I would get him sick. These are a few of countless other incidents of looks, stares, and comments when I have a family member with me and ask them to tell me what is being said.

It is embarrassing being the different one everywhere I go. I can’t even go to church. I tried the FM radio parking lot services and the live video feed on my computer, but neither had closed captioning. I have been without church since April 2020 during the voluntary closures of “15 days to slow the spread.”

Don’t get me started on the hundreds of studies disproving the efficacy of masks. I have asked our health department, county commissioners, city council, church leaders, even the governor’s office and the state health authorities if they would reconsider the mask mandates and why. I never got anything but grief about it and excuses.

Each order or mandate includes language like “must wear mask unless communicating with someone hard of hearing or deaf” or something like having a medical reason not to wear one. Yet they are treated as mass mandates for all with no exceptions, even for people who have legitimate reasons. So I have avoided going places that require masks so I won’t cause a scene when I say I can’t wear one.

I felt all this was discrimination, so I contacted attorneys and even the American Civil Liberties Union. No one has been willing to hear my concerns. No one cares that there is a group of people in the country being “legally” discriminated against in the name of “science,” even though with all the mandates and orders there are loopholes for when you don’t have to wear one.

For example, one loophole is “must wear it walking into restaurant but can take off when you sit down 10 feet from the door you just entered.” The contradictory orders and mandates should have people questioning things, but apparently don’t.

I served and protected people from the evils of humanity for two decades in law enforcement. Now I need the help and it is falling on deaf ears.