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I'm Sick of the Ableist Responses When I Can't Hear Someone Wearing a Mask

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Thursday I was craving some fries from McDonald’s, which is one of my safe foods due to my gastroparesis. So I placed a mobile order, I did curbside pick up, but it wasn’t letting me check in for pickup. So I went inside. The cashier was talking to me and I couldn’t understand/hear her. So I told her. Then the manager started talking to me. I repeated I can’t hear them. She started again. I yelled, “I’m partially deaf, I can’t understand you.” Then she laughed. The manager laughed! There were several guys waiting for their food, and one stepped up to help me. When I walked away, she laughed again! I was so angry and embarrassed, I was almost crying.

Masks have long been a challenge for those that are hearing impaired. Many have experienced horrible situations from being unable to communicate. This is not OK. This is stressful and honestly traumatizing. I have 30% hearing loss in my left ear and 40% in my right. I’m exhausted sometimes from straining to hear what’s being said to me by others.

Now you may think, what’s the big deal? Well, for those in the hearing impaired community, reading lips is imperative to communicate. With lips covered, they can’t effectively communicate. Many won’t wear clear masks so their lips could be read. Many won’t write down on a pad of paper for the hard of hearing person; many make no effort to accommodate to provide effective communication. What is even more mind-blowing is how often this is happening at doctors’ offices and hospitals.  I have told them, upon checking in for an appointment, that I am hard of hearing. I will not hear my name if called softly, or on the other side of the waiting room. Frustratingly, it still happens! I had one appointment last year with an ortho; I couldn’t tell you what was said. He wore two masks and didn’t speak clearly. Again, this was after telling him I’m hearing impaired.

The sad reality is, this is happening at an alarming frequency. We in the hearing impaired community have lost valuable, necessary ways to communicate. This has left us reeling. This has left us experiencing frustrating, even embarrassing situations. The number of times we’re ridiculed, ignored, or absolutely no effort is put forth to communicate in a way we need is astounding. There are countless videos on TikTok of this happening, countless posts on Facebook detailing the same thing.

It’s disheartening. This is honestly ableist. Experiencing this over and over is emotionally draining. Today’s experience was completely unacceptable. It should never have happened. It shouldn’t be happening to anyone! Struggling to hear so I can communicate, is that really acceptable? Is that really where we are? This is not about politics. This is about a community being left in the lurch, struggling to communicate due to masks. We need to find a way that doesn’t leave an entire community struggling to communicate. If you see someone struggling, please help them. Offer assistance. Work to find a way to communicate with them, whether it’s typing on your phone, or writing it down. Be kind. Choose kindness and compassion.

Getty image by Stefanamer.

Originally published: October 8, 2021
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