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Face Mask Recommendations Pose New Challenges For Deaf And Hard Of Hearing Community

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all of us in some way, but as we've seen, it's minorities that feel the impact the most.

CBS 2's Marissa Parra shows us the challenge that face masks have brought to the deaf community.

In the push to wear more face masks, a new challenge arises.

June Prusak is a deaf interpreter who used lip reading for simple things like getting food at the drive-thru.

"Now with the face masks, it's been a huge communication barrier," Prusak said. "It blocks off your face so you only see the eyebrows."

For the 384,000 people in the state who are either deaf or hard of hearing, covering half of your face is making it even harder to understand you.

"Some people depend on the mouth to communicate for lip reading," Prusak said. "Now they're starting to wear masks as well, and I have no idea how much my food costs!"

It's also making it harder for them to understand each other.

For instance, those of us who can hear use tone in our voice. But sign language has a whole different set of rules.

"What they do instead is take that tone and put it on their face," Prusak said.

And not just that, but in American Sign Language, the grammar is in your face.

Which is why you likely won't see interpreters like Michael Albert wearing a mask while signing at a press conference any time soon. He's a familiar face to viewers as Illinois Governor JB Pritzker's hearing interpreter.

"For example, if I were to say something is large and if I wanted to say something was extremely large," said Albert as he signed with his mouth wide open.

Such a small difference -- easily hidden behind a mask.

Albert needs that facial real estate to speak his language.

As for those specially made face masks a young woman from Kentucky made with a clear center in the front, he doesn't have one to test it out.

But he'd consider it.

In the meantime, the deaf and hard of hearing are asking just one simple favor:

"If you're using the mask, just try to do more visual gesturing and communication," Prusak said. "Same with people in the deaf community. Maybe they need to bring their own paper and pen."

The Chicago Hearing Society said it offers classes through Zoom.

Apps like Ava, and Otter provide a makeshift captioning service.

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