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By Justin Vigil-Zuniga 

Signal Staff Writer 

Academy of the Canyons student Candice Baek was awarded a Scholastic Art and Writing honorable mention for her essay “Added Barrier,” a piece on the struggles of the deaf community through the pandemic. 

The essay entails the added struggles of the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities during the pandemic due to face masks. 

Baek doesn’t have hearing loss, but did not realize the severity of these struggles until after attending her first deaf event. 

“As I mentioned in the essay, I never realized how much the deaf and HOH struggled throughout this pandemic,” said Baek. “After the event was over, I wanted to bring it up to my class, but as it was an online class due to the virus. It was difficult. Instead, I decided to write about it.” 

“Added Barrier” discussed a very hot issue with COVID-19 with an often overlooked group in the deaf and HOH. 

“However, with the sudden outcome of the pandemic, it has come to my attention that communication, an important necessity in our lives, would affect people in the way they communicate,” Baek wrote in her piece. 

Many would think the deaf community would have no issues at all communicating with a face mask. However, the community uses a heavy amount of facial expressions to communicate. They also rely on lip reading when communicating with hearing people when they are able to. 

Baek hoped to shine a brighter light on the deaf/HOH community. 

“I feel that not many people are aware of the struggles that this community goes through,” said Baek. “It is something we should advocate for to help them out.” 
 
Baek’s winning essay, “Added Barrier,” is shown below: 

“Added Barrier”  

By the time the 17th century had struck, a new form of language was created. A visual way of communication was made from references to hand gestures that convey certain meanings. Today, it is known as sign language. Sign language is an important method of communicating within the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and is now normalized for people who are not part of that community to learn as well. However, with the sudden outcome of the pandemic, it has come to my attention that communication, an important necessity in our lives, would affect people in the way they communicate.  

The deaf community has had a harder time than everyone else adjusting to the changes caused by the coronavirus. There has been an uprising in acknowledging the communication issues that have been caused by face masks used by the public. Many deaf or hard-of-hearing people struggle to understand others behind the masks as it does not allow them to lip-read or focus on facial expressions to judge a situation.  

Masks: A familiar term everyone should now be aware of, has made a huge trial [of] inconvenience. Whether it’s colored or worn with multiple layers, face masks are now a fact of life during the pandemic to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, although masks have provided a safe barrier of protection, for some, communication was made difficult. The deaf community was left with an additional barrier as the new social standard of wearing a mask has become so normalized. Face masks leave the deaf community without a method of communication.  

Nowadays, masks are a prime factor in our everyday wear. Walking out with a mask is not only a mismatched fashion add-on but also a constant struggle and concern the deaf and hard of hearing community has.  

Even on day-to-day trips like grocery shopping or making a trip to the post office, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community are heavily dependent on communication, facial expressions being a huge factor. Visual clues on people’s faces and lip reading were some tactics that people in that community were dependent on, but they no longer have access to those because of masks.  

The beginning of this realization sparked at my first attendance at a deaf event. My first approach was how normal the event would go, disregarding the fact that COVID-19 is taking place. It never occurred to me that masks would be a problem, yet with only a few steps into the event, it was obvious. Masks have changed the way the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities interpret communication.  

My time as a student in my SIGN-101 class has taught me a lot. However, it failed to teach me the important struggles that we, as a community, should have paid more attention to. This pandemic has generated numerous problems and communication barriers were the least of our concerns. We were not aware.  

Reading facial expressions is critical when it comes to signing. You are able to interpret communication in a more precise way without confusion or hesitation. Battling these long-existing barriers is what led “Anne McInotosh to create the Safe N Clear Communicator mask.” This mask was the first medical mask to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration with a clear casement in the mask to facilitate better communication. Not only did this help people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but it improved patient care for everyone.  

While the push for more widespread use of clear face masks is ongoing, the reality is that deaf and hard-of-hearing people have had to rely on other resources to communicate effectively and access accurate information.  

An ideal way of communicating has been writing down messages, but that was not the best way for people whose dominant language is ASL. It is difficult to assume what the best way of precise communication would be, especially with the existence of masks. Their way of communication is through visual communication and that is how they get information and how they understand the world around them, not through written messages.  

This pandemic has definitely been an emotional toll on the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Reporter Ashlea Hayes states the aloneness they have felt, “[feeling] like [they] are in this bubble alone. People can’t see [them] or hear [them].” They feel more isolated than before. During the deaf events I have gone to, I’ve noticed constant assurance needed from both parties in any conversation, making it difficult to finish what they started.  

Although there is no profound way of fully restoring this problem, it has come to my attention that clear face masks have had the most beneficial effect. We should be aware of the hardships the deaf and hard-of-hearing community go through. Compassion can go a long way; understanding their struggles gives us a perspective of important interpretations of the events going on in our lives. 

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