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COVID-19 Masks Pose Unique Problem For Deaf, Hard Of Hearing Community

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) - The coronavirus pandemic has forced the deaf and hard of hearing community to confront a unique challenge. With more people wearing masks, it's even difficult for them to communicate.

Despite the obvious need for a mask, a lot of people find them to be quite bothersome. They fog your glasses, muffle your speech but, for a deaf person, the mask can be especially troublesome.

Many think, it would matter if voices are muffled to a deaf person because they can't hear it.

Catherine Neymzan runs Blingva Translation Services. She says it's not the voice, it's the lips.

"They have to ask a person to show their lips so they can read them and understand what the question is or what they want to say," explains Neymzan. "Of Course, it's very awkward and it's challenging."

It's one of those unintended consequences. Not only do deaf people need to see other people's lips but, they also rely on facial expressions to interpret their tone or emotions.

Natalia is deaf. English is her second language. Before starting her online interview with KPIX 5, she needed the laptop camera positioned so she could see the reporter's lips.

So what happens when she meets someone with a mask?

"Sometimes I just don't communicate with the other speaker wearing the mask because it's like impossible for me," she said, via text.

There may be a solution. Masks are being made with clear plastic inserts so people see more of the face -- see your smile and yes, read your lips.

Of course, if you use ASL sign language, then none of this is a problem.

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