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Why Communicating With a Mask on Can Be Hard With a Speech Disorder

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Dear world,

I’m almost positive you can tell I have some sort of disability just by watching me for a few minutes, so please allow me to explain. My most visible disabilities are cerebral palsy and an involuntary movement disorder. These both affect my balance and you guessed it, my movement. You can probably tell I have a difficult time swallowing too, but you can’t see my speech impairment that is made up of two disorders. Dysphagia is defined as difficulty swallowing foods and liquids, arising from the throat or esophagus, ranging from mild difficulty to complete and painful blockage. Dysphasia is a language disorder marked by a deficiency in the generation of speech, and sometimes also in its comprehension, due to brain disease or damage.

I’m a pretty talkative person when I’m with people I’m comfortable around, but that has changed due to coronavirus. I know everybody on earth is struggling in some aspect of life because of the virus, but people with speech difficulties are facing a challenge we never have before. Talking with masks on. 

Personally, masks make me not want to talk a lot and there are two reasons why. One, my mask moves when I talk and then I’m concerned about how far down it slides.  Two, I know people understand me better when they can read my lips. There are see-through masks, which are super great but they aren’t for me. I drool and I wouldn’t be comfortable having that be stuck in a mask that shows it, if I’m being honest.

Communication devices are lifesavers to some people, but able-bodied people rely on them too much. I’ve actually said no to people who immediately asked me to type something out, because over time the more vocal I am the better you can understand me. Masks change that, but typing things out takes time too, so try to keep that in mind when you start talking to people with disabilities. Also, make time for these conversations if you can.

I’m writing this just to remind you all to be patient with people with disabilities. Be patient with yourselves. We’re all trying to figure this thing out. If we’re not as talkative, just know it’s probably not personal. I also wanted to remind you that some disabilities are less visible and said disability might make it hard for someone to wear a mask. You never know unless you know them personally. Let’s support each other in this pandemic.

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Getty image by Lubo Ivanko.

Originally published: July 28, 2020
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