Pandemic brings new technology, new challenges for deaf community

Pandemic presents unique challenges to deaf, hard of hearing

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (WLOX) - The coronavirus pandemic brings forward unique social challenges for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Ralph Vice is excited to have a new visual platform to connect with loved ones in Amerian Sign Language. The April launch of Wavello was timely as he is now spending most of his isolate at home with his family due to the pandemic.

“He called me the other day and said he wanted me to download this app," said his brother Scott Vice over a Facetime call.

Sorenson Communication launched Wavello as an extension of its video relay services for the deaf and hard of hearing community. The app allows deaf users to make video calls to hearing people through an interpreter, offering a new level of clarity in communication.

“This really caused the deaf culture to flourish, to expand and get involved and stay connected," Scott Vice said.

Ralph Vice said being deaf makes for less clear communication outside of the home, especially as more people wear face masks to stay safe during the pandemic. He explained how critical facial expressions are to deaf culture and American Sign Language.

“It cuts off the full communications because, of course, my facial expressions and other people’s facial expressions highly show the grammar and all of the different contexts," he said.

Vice is a co-founder of the Mississippi Coast Association for the Deaf. He said that he often runs into people who don’t know how to interact with him because he is deaf. His biggest issue as of late is trying to get people to move their face masks so he can understand what they are saying; however, he understands they may be wary to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19.

When asked about how the deaf and hard of hearing community is protecting itself from the virus, he said, “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Just like how hearing people can wear a mask if they want to, deaf people have the same choice. If they want to wear a mask, they can. There are people making masks with clear panels so you can read lips, but again, it depends on the person.”

He offered a few suggestions on how hearing people can start a conversation with a deaf person without fear of being offensive or rude.

“You can touch a deaf person when you’re in public to get their attention," he said. “A lot of us can read and write. We can use text messages; we use notes on our phone.”

Vice said in-person communication can be a smooth process if hearing people practice a little patience and willingness to learn more about deaf culture.

”There are many barriers that we’ve been used to overcoming all of our life," Vice said. "Being able to understand everybody’s perspective in that way, everybody understanding what shoes another person’s in is key to being able to working together.”

Ralph and his wife LeAnne raise money for organizations of the Deaf through their online store aslstation.com.

National Association of the deaf offers resources for the coronavirus pandemic at www.nad.org/coronavirus.

Copyright 2020 WLOX. All rights reserved.