BROOKVILLE — Rita Woodard refers to deafness and difficulty hearing as “the invisible disability,” because unless individuals with those problems make themselves known, people assume they aren’t there.
She said most places are fully equipped with wheel chair ramps, braille, and other necessities for other disabilities, but almost no place is equipped to properly deal with a deaf person. They often struggle to find a way to communicate if they have a problem, and often won’t even bother to try to get help because they’ve become accustomed to a lack of understanding from hearing people.
Something as simple as going to a fast food restaurant becomes a problem. Woodard said that many places like McDonalds have braille on their drive-thru menu, but not picture menus. Woodard said it is far more likely for a deaf person to go through the drive-thru unaccompanied than it is for a blind person, yet there are more accommodations readily available for the blind person.
Woodard outlined the cycle of problems she said the deaf community faces, as she has seen it over the years growing up as the child of deaf adults, or CODA. Her parents are both profoundly deaf, and communicate primarily through sign language.
From a young age, Woodard has found herself playing the role of an adult to help her parents communicate with the necessary organizations like utility companies and emergency services. Often, even when the companies have some technology or way of communicating with deaf individuals, no one knows how to use it.
“Some places might have things in place the government requires, but it is pointless if people don’t know how to use it,” Woodard said. She said she has come across such a situation several times.
The problem with Text Telephones, or TTY phones, and the relay service is that most of the TTY phones are outdated because of the ones with video screens. Many of the places that have TTY phones still have ones that require typing rather than video, and this means having to type out personal information.
Another problem comes with having to use the relay service to have someone read their messages out loud, or translate sign language for them. There have been many cases of relay service workers stealing the bank or credit card information of deaf individuals who use their service to communicate with utility or disability companies, she said.