ight-year-old Lucie Wilcox was left out of the conversation when COVID-19 forced everyone to wear masks — she’s deaf and masks make lip reading impossible.
“They were talking, we all had masks on and she said I’m deaf, I can’t hear you sorry,” said. Erin Wilcox, Lucie’s mother. “In the beginning it was hard.”
For the deaf and hard of hearing, masks have left them a bit closed off from communication.
“Even when you do sign, you need your face for expressions,” said Wilcox.
She and her husband thought it would be hard for Lucie to communicate with her teachers and friends so they decided to keep her home and do distance learning instead. They were also a little concerned about COVID-19.
At Hidden Valley Elementary School, there a special education classroom that has an interpreter who wears a mask with a clear plastic window over the mouth. It allows her to better communicate with her deaf students.
“We’ve been figuring out different masks, and we’ve got these masks which we feel like are the best ones we’ve found so far. Show a lot of speech reading cues,” said Patty Orr, A Washoe County School District Speech Pathologist.
For Adam Mayberry, he has to understand every word of his co-workers’ conversation — it’s a matter of life and death in some cases.
Adam is the spokesman for the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, and it’s his job to notify the community about fire danger.
Mayberry has more than 50 percent hearing loss and wears a cochlear implant to increase his hearing, so a mask covering someone’s mouth can make it very difficult to understand a conversation.
“It can be very excruciating not to be able to see the lips and the movement of the mouth and the nonverbal communication,” said Mayberry.
He said his co-workers know about his hearing loss.
“A lot of our crews know that I have a hearing disability and they go out of their way to ensure they either talk louder or maybe temporarily remove their mask,” said Mayberry.
Reno resident Leala Lierman, who is hard of hearing, started Nevada Smiles, a small business that makes masks with plastic on the mouth, just like the ones the Washoe County School District uses.
“About 70% of sign language is reliant on your face,” she said. “Those non-manual markers may be in the eyebrows very frequently you’re looking at a mouth position or mouth shape.”
Lierman and her mother started the local company. Lierman makes masks for schools, businesses and she’s even partnered with Nevada Hands and Voices and donated masks too.
Nevada Hands and Voices is a statewide non-profit organization that supports families and children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Erin Wilcox is a Parent Guide for that group.
Masks have been difficult for all of us to adjust to, but it was debilitating for the deaf and hard of hearing. Now there are options to include everyone in the conversation.
“We have so much going on in the world that’s negative and to be able to smile at somebody is a really big deal,” said Lierman.