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Deaf and hard of hearing Albertans highlight new challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 pandemic creates unique challenges for people who are deaf and hard of hearing' COVID-19 pandemic creates unique challenges for people who are deaf and hard of hearing
WATCH: Communication is critical during the pandemic but for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, physical distancing has created a unique set of challenges. As Tracy Nagai reports, organizations are working to come up with solutions to support people who may feel particularly isolated – May 27, 2020

Albertans who are deaf or hard of hearing are navigating a new, unique set challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Accessibility has always been a challenge for us,” said Cindy Pilz with Deaf and Hear Alberta. “So it’s been difficult for us to cope and manage in this new normal.”

READ MORE: SDHHS offering solutions to deaf and hard of hearing community during pandemic

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Face masks can be problematic for some Canadians' Health Matters: Face masks can be problematic for some Canadians
Health Matters: Face masks can be problematic for some Canadians – May 21, 2020

Pilz said physically distancing has been especially hard for people in the community, with many who rely on body language and touch to feel connected.

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“It’s had a huge impact on the deaf and hard of hearing communities,” Pilz said. “As deaf members we rely on facial expressions and we’re big huggers as well.”

Those sentiments were also echoed by Calgarian Landa Field who is hard of hearing.

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“If I know your voice it’s okay but if I don’t know you I’m totally lost,” she said. 

READ MORE: The critical role sign language plays during the pandemic

Click to play video: 'The critical role sign language plays during the pandemic' The critical role sign language plays during the pandemic
The critical role sign language plays during the pandemic – May 3, 2020

Field said she is still learning sign language and relies on cochlear implants after she contracted bacterial meningitis seven years ago.

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Both women also agree that while masks are important to keep COVID-19 from spreading they also create communication issues.

“Facial expressions reflect tone,” Pilz said. “When you have half of their face covered you can only see their eyes.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus:  A lifeline to the deaf community' Coronavirus: A lifeline to the deaf community
Coronavirus: A lifeline to the deaf community – May 3, 2020

Pilz said she also doesn’t wear a mask very often because she was born without ears.

“Of course the mask is supposed to hook behind your ears but I can’t do that, so I’ve had to modify it by using a paper clip or trying to attach it at the back,” she said.

“My only saving grace about the masks is that other people who are not deaf and hard of hearing will understand what we go through most days,” Field said. 

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ontario sign language interpreter delivers important messages

However, there are some things people can do to try and make communication clearer for those who are part of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

“If they’re wearing a mask I can’t even tell if they’re speaking to me, so I’ll use my phone and text with that person and confirm that’s what they were saying to me,” Pilz said. “We always try to find a way to adjust.”

“Look at me when you’re talking to me, “Field said. “Talk a little slower, don’t mumble into your face mask and project your voice.”

I hope Calgarians will have patience, especially when this is over with people who are deaf or different,” Field said.

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