WATCH: How you can help the deaf community communicate while wearing a face mask

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Pam Mabee went to get her blood drawn on Friday. When she got to her appointment, she asked the staff to tap her on the arm when they were ready for her. She was in the waiting room with one other person when a nurse walked in and started looking around. The other man in the room stood up so she assumed the nurse had called his name. 

Then, another nurse came in and stood there for a minute looking around.

“I had no idea if she was talking to me,” she said.

The nurse eventually showed Mabee her name and she understood that the nurse was coming to get her.

Mabee says that situations like this happen every day when she is at the grocery store and out running errands.

Mabee is a sign language instructor at WHOLE ME, a Syracuse-based organization that brings the deaf and hearing worlds together. She says that some people who are deaf don’t sign at all so it is especially important for them to lip-read.

“For deaf people who rely on lip-reading, they do have a bit of a setback. I feel like they can’t go out to appointments or go even food shopping without being scared that they might have a challenge trying to lip-read. Or just being out in the general public not being able to understand other people who don’t sign,” she said.

She shared ways that people who do hear can help communicate with the deaf community while wearing a mask, including stepping back to six feet and pulling down your mask to help with lip-reading.

Other options she gave were using pen and paper to write notes back and forth, learning ASL, and making sure that interpreters are present at events where they might be needed.

Some people have opted for see-through face masks, but Mabee says that she hasn’t had luck with them. The material is hot and both the mask and her glasses fog up.

She says that the biggest thing people who hear can do for the deaf community is be patient when it comes to communicating.

The World Federation of the Deaf has requested that government officials, private businesses, non-governmental organizations, cultural, educational, public, and social service institutions consider the following recommendations in their responses to COVID-19: 

  1. Mandate the use of clear, transparent face masks and shields for all workers who communicate frequently with the public.
  2. Provide essential information in text format at public spaces including options to access information in national sign languages. 
  3. Use speech-to-text apps to facilitate communication for one-on-one conversations.
  4. Adopt a positive attitude toward communicating. Everyone can benefit from wearing clear face masks and providing visual information because doing so reduces the overall potential for misunderstandings for all. Clear communication and clear language use require creativity and good-will from everyone. Let us all navigate these challenging times together. 

Mabee shared some Coronavirus-related words in American Sign Language with NewsChannel 9.

“There’s a lot of last-minute signs we had to come up with in the spur of the moment because of how quickly the pandemic happened,” she said. “In such a short span of time people were coming up with all these signs and it’s kind of amazing how the deaf community collaborated together to make these signs and make these signs widespread so everyone knows them. 

The first word she showed us was COVID.

“They had a picture of the coronavirus, what it looked like. So it’s basically this ball with spikes all around it so that’s how they came up with the sign for Coronavirus,” she said. 


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