Chapter 8: COVID and learning

8.6.2 Communication in the Deaf community during COVID-19 (research essay)

Sarah Ciha

English 102, April 2020

To conclude my time in English 102 I plan on diving deeper into the topic of communication in the deaf community. Deaf culture is slowly becoming more socially accepted in society. I plan on discussing the differences and difficulties that the deaf community must face and answering some research questions. I chose to continue writing about this topic because I am currently in an American Sign Language class and my professor is deaf, and it got my thinking about any struggles the deaf community encounters. I plan on relating this to the circumstances we as a world are facing. I am also going to discuss the difficulties the deaf community faces in a day to day life.

To help develop my paper, I have five research questions. Those being: How is higher education different for those who are deaf or hearing impaired compared to those who are hearing? What are different causations of becoming deaf? (different levels of deafness) How hard is it to get a stable job as a deaf person? What are strategies to teach hearing individuals American Sign Language? Why is it easier to learn ASL from a deaf individual?

Before answering my research questions, I want to mention common misconceptions within the deaf community. One of the biggest misconceptions is that American Sign Language is an easy language to learn. Most people believe that if you learn a few signs that you will be okay. That mindset is the reason people don’t take ASL seriously. It is just as difficult as learning a second language. “Learning ASL as a second language may be natural for a few students, extremely difficult for a few, and somewhere between fairly not-so-hard and some difficult for the rest of the students. It is a typical curve” Jolanta Lapiak from Handspeak discusses how challenging it is to learn ASL in the article, How challenging is it to master American Sign Language? Lapiak breaks down the difficulty of learning a language into categories. The categories are from The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the U.S. Department of State and they break the languages down based on how many hours you need to practice being “fluent” in a certain language. While ASL is not on this list, some argue that ASL should be in Category II. Category II requires about 30 weeks of practice or 750 hours and is the equivalent to learning German. Others argue that ASL is Category IV. Category IV requires about 44 weeks of practice or 1100 hours. ASL is constantly gaining new signs which makes it difficult to learn quickly.

Another common misconception for ASL is that it is universal. While some signs are the same, like numbers, others like the alphabet are different. ASL is not universal even within the United States. My ASL professor, Mary Mougey, told my class that signs in Ohio are different in California. Signs are different because of slang and geographic regions. Those who learn in different locations may learn signs differently than other people learning in another region. For example, the alphabet in British Sign Language is completely different than the alphabet in ASL. Finally, ASL has their own syntax. Syntax is the set of rules on how to structure a sentence. For English, sentences are typically structured by the order subject, verb, and object. ASL syntax follows TLSOV? which is time, location, subject, object, verb, and question words. For example, a sentence in English syntax would be “My family goes to the lake in New York for vacation every summer.” ASL syntax would change the sentence to, “Every summer lake in New York my family goes.” While it is confusing to learn at first, this helps the deaf community understand the sentences easier.

An additional misconception is that deaf people can’t speak. While it is true for some, others chose to not speak because of their “deaf accent.” When you first learn to talk and learn new words, you are aware of what you sound like and if you are saying something correctly or not. However, since the deaf cannot hear themselves, that is where the deaf accent comes in. Most deaf people chose not to speak because they don’t want a hearing person think, they are weird or sound funny. Depending on what age the person went deaf is the reason why people have a deaf accent. Someone who became deaf or hard-of-hearing may have learned how to speak and was hearing for years. Those we are born deaf don’t know how to say things correctly, which causes the accent.

There are quite a few academic fields that are involved with the deaf community, one being interpreters. Interpreters are people who know sign and can sign what someone is saying to a deaf person. ASL interpreters require a bachelors’ degree in ASL, have experience in the field, understand and are fluent in another language, most commonly English, and ASL. The demand for interpreters has been on the rise since 2012 and is projected to rise over 19 percent between years 2018 to 2028. The deaf has been more openly included in society for the past few years, which explains the job rise (U.S. Bureau of Labor).

Typically, interpreters are hearing; however, there are some interpreters that are deaf. For example, the governor of Ohio, Mike Dewine, has an interpreter during the COVID-19 briefings and her name is Maria Berkowitz. She is deaf and has someone who is hearing sign to her in English syntax. In an interview with WBNS, a news station located in Columbus, Ohio, Berkowitz explains how she interprets during the COVID-19 briefings. Berkowitz says that she has two interpreters at the briefings, one to sign to her, and another to make sure she is signing correctly (Tegna). Berkowitz also talks about the importance of facial expressions while signing saying, to convey an important message to the deaf, you must use facial expressions to express the importance of things (Tegna).

Another academic field that is interested in the deaf community is teachers. Teachers are there to help students with anything. However, special education teachers have specialized in how to help those who are lacking something. Usually within a special education classroom, there are students who have behavioral issues, attention issues, or they have a disability that requires them to need some help. There are teachers who are there to help hearing impaired students. Those teachers have certain specifications they must meet to become a teacher for the deaf. They must have a bachelor’s degree along with at least two years of experience working with deaf students in a learning setting. Some schools and jobs require their teachers to have a master’s degree but that is special for certain schools.

During COVID-19, the deaf community has been faced many more problems than most people realize. Due to the implication of masks, the deaf struggles to communicate with those who don’t know sign language. Many deaf people rely on lip-reading but the masks inhibit that. While most news stations have an interpreter during COVID-19 briefings, smaller stations are struggling. News stations are also trying to have closed captions for the deaf; however, sometimes the captions aren’t correct. Even at the White House, there has not been an interpreter at those briefings, even though many advocates for the deaf community have requested one. This time is extremely difficult for everyone but more so for those who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deafblind.

Moving into my research questions, the first one is asking about higher education and how it is different for hearing individuals. Firstly, the deaf have their own colleges. One of the most popular is Gallaudet University located in Washington D.C. Gallaudet was founded in 1864 by Edward Miner and is open to those who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing individuals. Gallaudet is more popular because it was one of the first colleges for the deaf. It was also the first place American Sign Language was recognized as an actual language (Gallaudet). Gallaudet also offers free ASL classes to help spread awareness. Another college that has had a big impact on the deaf community is Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester in New York. NTID was founded in 1829 by Peter Peterson Hall. Rochester, New York is the most populated place of deaf people. About six out of ten people in Rochester are deaf. When the British settlers were travelling from Kent, England to the US, typically the first piece of land the pilgrims were going to hit was by Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. Until about 1954, about 200 years, there was a close deaf community living on Cape Cod. They had families and everyone who lived in their community knew sign, even hearing individuals. Unfortunately, their dialect was never recorded and the last person to die was in 1954.

Before these colleges were established, the deaf community was believed to be dumb. People back then assumed that if you couldn’t hear that you were automatically stupid. While this is obviously absurd and completely wrong, the deaf couldn’t do much. Throughout their schooling, teachers would force the deaf to sit on their hands so they wouldn’t sign. Sign language was almost outlawed in 1880. It was uncommon for the deaf to get degrees. Most deaf or hard-of-hearing people have about a tenth-grade reading level. Going to college was difficult because of their reading level. It was very uncommon for the deaf to go to college and get a degree because of their reading level. The deaf community has been more welcomed this past decade than any time before. With the opening of Gallaudet University and Rochester’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the deaf finally have a place to fit in.

To answer my second research question about different causations and levels of deafness, I found an explanation on different causes of deafness. Some deafness is caused by sickness, while some is caused by birth defects. There are three different types of hearing loss which include conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss is the lowest level of hearing loss and is typically caused by a buildup of ear wax. Sensorineural hearing loss is most caused by damaged hair cells within the cochlea, which is in the inner ear. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. In addition to the three different types of hearing loss there is also four levels of deafness. The first is mild deafness or mild hearing impairment. If a person experiences this level of deafness, they can only detect between 25 and 29 decibels. The person could find it hard to understand the words other people say, especially if there is a lot of background noise. The next level is moderate deafness or moderate hearing impairment. This person can only detect sounds between 40 and 69 decibels. For this person, it may be hard to follow a conversation without a hearing aid. The third level is severe deafness. This person can only hear sounds 70 to 89 decibels. People who are severely deaf must lip-read or use sign language to have conversations. Finally, the last level is profound deafness. Anyone who cannot hear a sound below 90 decibels falls into this last level. To put all this information into perspective, a normal person with no hearing issues can hear anything between 0 to 20 decibels (Felman).

In the article, “Parental strategies used in communication with their Deaf infants”, the authors Willie Beatrijs, Van Lierde Kristiane, and Van Herreweghe Mieke, begin to describe what will happen during the article. First, they start off by describing their recorded interactions between parents and Deaf children. All children which were used throughout the study were under the age of three. They also included Deaf and hearing parents to see the difference between the interaction and communication taking place. Moving forward, the authors introduce the background information. It was found that most children do not get screened for any hearing deficiencies and most children who are Deaf, grow up in a home where both parents are hearing (166).  However, in Flanders, where this observation took place, an agency began to systematically screen all newborns for hearing loss. This occurred in 1998 and has since gotten the ball rolling on parents to start getting audio tests while their children are young. It has been shown that the younger the hearing loss is detected, the chances of having a positive outcome increase (Beatrijs, et al.166).  After parents or caregivers find out if their child has hearing loss, they tend to investigate cochlear implants and get the procedure for their child. Authors then discuss how a child’s successful communication is often related to their development of visual attention. The results from the study find that Deaf parents engage with their children with visuals. Deaf parents tend to rely on a combination of “implicit” and “tactile” strategies more than oral strategies. While incorporating implicit and tactile strategies this helps the parents become a Deaf role model for their Deaf children (176). Almost all schools offer hearing tests from kindergarten and do them once a year. Parents typically don’t get their child’s hearing tested at a young age unless they notice something is wrong.

Finding and obtaining a job is not an easy task for most people, but for those who have any disabilities, it is even harder. Deaf or hard-of-hearing people may experience discrimination before or even after they get a job. While there are legal rights to protect those who disabilities, it doesn’t always stop those from being discriminatory. According to the National Deaf Center, about 48% of deaf individuals are employed, leaving 47% not in the labor force and 4.6% are unemployed. In 2017, only 53.3% of deaf people between the ages 25 and 64 were employed. Comparing this to hearing individuals 75.8% were employed, which leaves about a 22% gap. Employment and pay gaps increase based from race, ethnicity, gender, and disability (National Deaf Center). About 42.9% of the deaf opt out for working, more than double of hearing individuals. While the low labor force is not due to the lack of interest, but it is because of the lack of options. The deaf are often hired for jobs that don’t have much development or advancement. Deaf people get burned out from facing so many barriers (National Deaf Center).

In the article, “Hearing Managers of Deaf Workers: A Phenomenological Investigation in the Restaurant Industry,” the main idea is hearing impaired people in the workplace. Authors Hayley Stokar and John Orwat begin their article with a brief overview of Deaf people struggling to fit in the workplace. Up front they bring in statistics backing up their topic saying that limits within the workplace reflect on Deaf employment rates. People who are hearing have an employment rate that is 26.5% larger than those who are a part of the Deaf community (14). This comparison alone shows people with hearing loss struggle to get a job due to them being Deaf. And while the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act are there to prevent any discrimination against the Deaf, it doesn’t guarantee them a job where they feel accepted. Stokar and Orwat conducted a study that had research questions that investigated the issues of “accommodation and integration” within the workplace (15). They had four research questions to better understand the accommodations that were being made for Deaf employees. The study included two subgroups, hearing managers and Deaf employees. After asking the four questions, they proceeded to have interviews with six hearing managers and six deaf employees. All the managers possessed the same qualities which included working as a supervisor in a high- volume restaurant, physically and culturally identified as hearing, had a direct contact with a deaf worker, and lacked information on ASL. Looking at the analysis of the entire study, most managers had a lack of knowledge of the ADA accommodations. Even with the ADA, most employers don’t know the special requirements the deaf community requires.

For my last two research questions, I interviewed my American Sign Language professor, Mary Mougey. Mary is deaf and has taught ASL and other deaf classes at Cleveland State University for a few years now. During the interview I asked her what her strategies are to teach hearing people sign language and why is it better to learn sign language from someone who is a part of the deaf community. People often walk into ASL and believe it’ll be easy, Mougey says that when a student believes that she knows they will be surprised. Mougey said after about four classes people begin to fully understand that there is more than just learning a few signs. One thing Mougey witnesses firsthand while teaching ASL to hearing students is the level of frustration. Mougey stresses to all her classes that it is okay if you forget a sign. It is extremely difficult. She says that with encouraging words, she lets her students know that they won’t learn everything in five months, and that is okay.

When asked why it is better to learn ASL from someone who is deaf, Mary Mougey says it is because it is their first language. They have firsthand experience using it. She says that for those who are born deaf, they are immersed immediately into the culture of sign. When learning sign, you are also taught about the history of it, which was discussed in the paragraph that answers question one. People tend to have a better appreciation and awareness for the deaf community when learning American Sign Language from someone who is deaf.

To conclude, communication within the Deaf community is significantly more difficult than communication in the hearing community. Communicating in a society with predominately hearing people is often difficult for hearing impaired persons. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people depend on facial expressions and body language to help them convey and understand a conversation. During a time with a global pandemic happening, communication for the deaf has become more difficult especially with the implication of face masks. While society has been more accepting of people with disabilities, people still don’t know how to accommodate the Deaf.  With the opening of deaf colleges, the deaf have a place to fit in.  Interpreters have become more popular and I believe the effect of COVID-19 will cause the job rise to increase more than it already has.  Disabilities have become normalized and I hope people understand that they are just the same as us “normal” people.

Works Cited

“Employment Report Shows Strong Labor Market Passing by Deaf Americans.” National Deaf

Center, 14 Nov. 2019, strong-labor-market-passing-deaf-americans.

Felman, Adam. “Deafness and Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” Medical

News Today, MediLexicon International, 27 June 2018,

Garberoglio, Carrie Lou, et al. “Deaf Employment Report.” National Deaf Center, 2016, Employment Report_final.pdf.

“Interpreters and Translators : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor

Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19 Sept. 2019,

Lapiak, Jolanta. “How Challenging Is It to Master American Sign Language?” Handspeak,

Lawyer, Gloshanda. “Deaf Education and Deaf Culture: Lessons from Latin America.” American Annals of the Deaf, vol. 162, no. 5, Winter 2018, pp. 486–488. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/aad.2018.0006.

Mougey, Mary. Professor at Cleveland State University.

Stokar, Hayley, and John Orwat. “Hearing Managers of Deaf Workers: A

Phenomenological Investigation in the Restaurant Industry.” American Annals of the Deaf, vol. 163, no. 1, Spring 2018, pp. 13–34. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/aad.2018.0009.

“Table A-6. Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Sex, Age, and Disability Status,

Not Seasonally Adjusted.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labo Statistics, 3 Apr. 2020,

Tegna. “Meet Marla Berkowitz, Deaf Interpreter in the Spotlight during Ohio’s COVID-19

Briefings.” WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio | Columbus News, Weather & Sports 15 Apr. 2020,

“Who We Are.” Who We Are – Gallaudet University,

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