Pandemic Creates Challenges for Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing Community

The deaf and hard-of-hearing community struggles daily with stigma and communication. But during the pandemic, things are made even more challenging

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The coronavirus pandemic has been tough on all of us, but for those who are deaf or are hard of hearing, the challenges compound.

Through an interpreter, one teacher told NBC 6 anchor Sheli Muñiz of her frustrations. Cathy Oshrain, a teacher at North Miami Beach Senior High School, loves to bike, swim, and read books -- but life can get very complicated for her.

“It’s really hard to keep track with what’s going on and to follow the information because if it’s an emergency, I’m pretty much left in the dark,” Oshrain said through her interpreter, Veronica, who is one of her former students.

Oshrain says the pandemic has made things tricky. Closed captioning is not always reliable and can be delayed, so she relies heavily on the interpreters. The problem is there aren’t always American Sign Language interpreters at news conferences. Last month, several groups sued Gov. Ron DeSantis for failing to provide an interpreter during his briefings for coronavirus and the current hurricane season. 

Tim Wood is the President of the Florida Association of the Deaf. The association has joined with two other organizations asking for the governor to provide an interpreter. 

“Simply for the reason is because the same logic that hearing people need audio to understand what the speaker is saying, the deaf and hard-of-hearing need interpreters. So, our interpreter is equivalent to your audio hearing,” Wood told NBC 6.

The lawsuit says there are more than 820,000 people living in Florida who are deaf or hard of hearing. People like Oshrain also heavily rely on reading lips, which has become difficult with face masks.

“Ooooh, it’s been very frustrating with the use of face masks,” Oshrain told NBC 6. “I depend heavily on lip reading so with the use of face masks it makes it nearly impossible and what usually happens is a hearing person will want to put their mask down then defeats the purpose of wearing masks to begin with.”

People and groups have been making see-through masks to help with communication. 

“I would really like people specifically here in South Florida to be open-minded when it comes to encountering a deaf or hard of hearing individual,” Oshrain said.

NBC 6 reached out to the governor’s office regarding the lawsuit and has not heard back.

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