By: Lime Vella
Growing up, I have always had to rely on my parents and older brother to be my way to open communication since I’m profoundly deaf. I also often carried around various devices to help me communicate. I’ve developed a diverse collection of methods to deal with curious situations in my day-to-day since my mid-late teens.
When I am going out of the house, I often replan the day before so I know my route and where I’m supposed to go as well as the times. Often, there are not many resources that are available to the deaf that aren’t readily available online and not everyone knows how to communicate in my native language. Thus I have to often mentally prepare myself for the obstacles that will inevitably occur such as being unsure of bus stops, asking for directions, emergency situations and such.
When the need to communicate comes up; I often try to get attention by waving at them or approaching them in their eyesight range but sometimes I have had to lightly tap their shoulder to get their attention since I’m nonverbal. Since I know that it can be an invasion of their personal space; I often put on my best apologetic face, gesture that I’m deaf and show them my phone with my pre-typed message. The responses I receive are often varied. Some people are very receptive and tell me what I need to know through body language, gestures and typing on their phone. While others have negative reactions and often leave me feeling sour from the interaction. That can be rather draining.
I often went out for walks at the mall which involve a bus ride or going into Toronto for social events with my friends and fellow deaf individuals. Those outings often involve a lot of positive interactions and encourage independence on my part since I lack a driver’s license.
However, that has changed a lot since the pandemic started. My outings have been drastically reduced to trips for the bare necessities. I live with my mother currently, and we’re also responsible for my grandparents’ shopping since they’re high-risk. That means no outings to the mall or into Toronto which I dearly treasured. And thus, I have not seen my friends in months or been able to celebrate any special events. The loss of those connections sadden me considerably.
Since American Sign Language is my native language and it relies on body language a lot; having face masks covering a half of an individual’s face has reduced my understanding of their tone drastically. I have to focus more on their eyes, eyebrows and their body language which can get rather difficult without the checks and mouth areas. Plus, masks muffle a lot of noise so the Live Transcribe app is unable to pick up a lot of their speaking. This can be frustrating because we are meant to keep in-person interactions as santitiary as possible to be safe. If I rely on writing, then there is risk of contamination between shared items and that can get tiring so I have had to rely on my mother a lot more to be the go-between on my behalf. That has also made me feel like I’m a child again and relying on my mother instead of being able to assert my independence as a deaf person. Most of my disabled peers including myself value our independence highly so having to rely on others has been the most impactful negative change that the pandemic has caused.
I did find that one positive aspect is that I haven’t had the need to communicate much with others so I did not have to worry about adjusting my habits and my usual methods including physical touch. However I have run into some people who simply did not adhere to the policy regarding safety and I have had to exaggerate my body language in order to get my point across. That is frustrating as it has an impact on my emotions. Normally when I want to make calls, I use VRS (Video Relay Service) but it has been rather clogged up with waiting times and delays due to high demand and low supply so I have been asking my mother to make calls on my behalf a few times.
There also hasn’t been much accessibility in news media online or on tv that has interpreters for updates and current information on the pandemic so I have been figuring out from my friends who share information and articles. Also another aspect of my daily life that the pandemic has had an impact on is my finances. As prices are spiking in basic needs and food, my monthly disability income still only reflects pre-pandemic cost-of-living so I have been struggling to pay off my bills. Grocery shopping has gotten difficult due to rising prices so some clever budgeting is in order. I consider myself fortunate that I live with my mother who handles most of the household, but I worry about the impact of these mounting responsibilities and costs on my other friends, especially the ones living on their own.
Basically this pandemic had changed and turned my world upside down thus leaving me feeling quite uncertain about the future.