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Kym Couch

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

Kym Couch 2023 3MTAbstract

COVID-19 led to widespread mask wearing, but surgical masks don’t just reduce the spread of diseases, they also reduce access to communication, particularly for d/Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) people. This research is a mixed methods approach to analyzing how the widespread use of masks has impacted communication for DHH people. In it, I take a closer look at the impact as well as which populations of DHH people experienced a greater impact. This research involves the analysis of a survey of 198 DHH people and interviews with 14 survey participants.

Findings in this research suggest that masks impacted communication for nearly all DHH people. The impact of masks on communication was slightly greater for people who primarily use spoken English, when compared with those who primarily use American Sign Language (ASL). Participants reported increased feelings of isolation, frustration, and changes in coping mechanisms due to masks impacting communication. Findings also suggest that clear masks can aid in communication for DHH people, but that they will only be effective if they are more readily available and used.