Tampa Bay deaf community facing challenges amid mask mandates


CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is suing the White House for failing to provide sign language interpreters during TV coronavirus briefings.

The announcement was made on Aug. 3.

Many members of the deaf community in the Tampa Bay Area are frustrated with the struggles putting on face masks are unveiling. Reading lips and facial expressions are important for many in this community, but that’s not an option amid a national pandemic when everyone wears masks.

8 On Your Side reached out to the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, Deaf Literacy Center Coordinator Rosa Rodriguez, to see how people were being impacted.

Rodriguez translated for us as we spoke with two members of the deaf community, getting their first-hand experience of the difficulties they face living in a society where reading facial expressions or reading lips is no longer an option.

“For me and my deaf community, we experience double stress. Not only are we worried about coronavirus but we have the communication barriers to add to that,” said 22-year-old Emely Rivera who teaches sign language at the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative non-profit.

She had these 5 suggestions for 8 on your side viewers to interact with a deaf person while keeping your mask on.

“Well, I suggest people gesture. That’s the #1 thing, we all understand gestures. Use your phone to text. Write on paper with a pen. Learning American Sign Language (ASL) would be ideal or using a clear mask,” said Rivera.

Clear masks help the deaf read lips or facial expressions.

Whatever you do, they say don’t take your mask off.

“It’s a little scary to know they could spread the virus to me by doing that,” said 21-year-old Dionna Young volunteers for the cooperative and works at a local grocery store.

Young said customers masking up is unveiling new emotions of frustration.

“Every single day I have customers who come in and the frustration gets higher and higher on a daily basis because they don’t understand me and I don’t understand them because of the masks,” said Young.

Wise beyond her years, Young urges everyone who interacts with the deaf community to use patience and understanding.

“I’m equal, I’m just like you. The only thing is I can’t hear. There’s no ‘you’re better than me’ or ‘I’m better than you’. I just can’t hear you,” said Young.

If you’re interested in learning sign language to better communicate with the deaf community amid the pandemic, the non-profit PPLC is offering free classes online. To learn more about the non-profit and the free language classes they offer, click here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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