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Graduate Defense: Kym Couch

March 3 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm MST

square graphic which says "Dissertation Defense"Dissertation Information

Title: Unheard Victims of COVID-19: The Impact of Mask Use on Communication for the d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration

Advisor: Dr. Krista Paulsen, School of Public Service

Committee Members: Dr. Jen Schneider, School of Public Service; Dr. Julie VanDusky-Allen, School of Public Service; and Dr. Elizabeth Schniedewind, School of Public Service


Masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but they also impact communication for d/Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) people. This research is a mixed methods approach to analyzing the impact that masks have had on communication for DHH people. Building on the allowance for nuance and paradox presented by Deborah Stone in her book Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making (2012) and holding to the Social Model of Disability, this research involves the qualitative and quantitative analysis of a survey of 198 DHH people, interviews with 14 DHH people, and analysis of statewide mask mandate exceptions that specifically mention, or may apply due to their ambiguity, to DHH people.

Findings in this research suggest that DHH people are extremely diverse in their communication methods used, cultural ideals, and personal identification language related to their deafness. Findings suggest that statewide mask mandates implemented later were more likely to include exceptions related to DHH people and more likely to use terminology which is deemed offensive by many DHH people. Findings also suggest that masks had a significant impact on DHH people, and that the impact was slightly greater for those who use spoken English as their primary language (referred to as Linguistically Hearing) than for those who use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary language. However, both groups reported significant impact to communication due to masks and this impact had a negative emotional impact on participants including increased feelings of isolation. Innovations in clear masks suggest a more accessible future, but participants hold reservations about the likelihood of access and prevalence.

Accommodations: Live closed captions and ASL interpretation, both in person and online.