NewsCovering Colorado


For the deaf and hard of hearing, wearing a mask can pose a problem

Posted at 10:38 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-02 00:38:25-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Whenever our local, state and federal leaders need to tell us something, American Sign Language Interpreters are always near. Their job is to make sure the deaf and hard of hearing can be informed as well. But, what about everyday living? What happens when the interpreters are not around.

"It really depends on the facial expressions," explained Anthony Thomas. "That is really what this is all about".

Thomas and his wife Natalie Thomas are both educators in Colorado Springs. Anthony, who teaches at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind is hard of hearing. Natalie teaches at Air Academy High School, and is deaf. The couple has a two year old daughter they are raising. Trying to balance work and taking care of her, is a challenge.

"The key to all this is just supporting each other through this really tough time," explained Natalie.

In order to interview the Thomas family, we needed two ASL interpreters. During a Zoom meeting, Ryan March interpreted for Anthony, and Jennifer Ebert interpreted for Natalie. Both were provided by the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.

Anthony says communication has gotten a lot harder for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

"When someone is wearing a mask and covering over half of their face it's very difficult for us to pick up on the nuances of the language," he said.

Even a trip to the grocery store, or to get an oil change is difficult. Anthony recounted stories of people assuming he could hear them, and just not being able to read lips.

"I spoke so the assumed I'm hearing, and they talk back to me and once they talk back to me, I miss a lot of what they are saying."

If you do a quick Google search, you'll find masks on the market that are see-through. Unfortunately, many have been known to fog up when a person is speaking. Natalie also pointed out, they aren't a one size fits all.

"Some people grew up using the oral method, some people were raised using American Sign Language, and there is such a variety and we are all different," she said.

Both Anthony and Natalie say if you encounter someone who might be deaf or hard of hearing, don't jump to conclusions. Instead, let them try to explain themselves.

"Maybe you can use a cell phone and type it out without having to have contact with each other," Natalie said.

Anthony also says, there are a lot of families out there where the parents don't know sign language, and can't communicate with their child, who may be deaf or hard of hearing. Anthony says the school's mental health team is checking on those families to make sure their needs are being met.

For more information on the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, click here.