Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of face masks to stop the spread of the virus has created even greater communication challenges for people with hearing loss. Masks muffle speech and inhibit lip-reading cues and facial expressions, which help convey what someone is saying. Social distancing also reduces the volume of speech, simply because people must stand further away from each other.
For those unfamiliar with the communication challenges caused by the current pandemic, we asked a vocal advocate for those with hearing loss, musical artist Emma Faye Rudkin, to share her perspective and advice.
You were recently interviewed by Cosmopolitan magazine about communication challenges with hearing loss amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for raising this awareness on behalf of people wearing both face masks and hearing aids. What advice would you give them, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to evolve?
Emma Faye: Always lead with kindness, even if others do not understand or meet you with the same compassion. If we approach this discrimination and lack of equal access to information as an opportunity to educate others, we will change these experiences for future generations with hearing loss.
I would urge people with hearing loss to not forget their rights to communication and that requesting a reasonable accommodation through the American with Disabilities Act such as clear masks, captioning and/or interpreting virtual content and providing up-to-date visuals and written forms of guidelines and updates is well within your rights. COVID-19 does not cancel your fundamental needs to understand and to be included. Stay strong and remember this “new normal” is not our new reality forever.
As an advocate for both adults and children with hearing loss, you continue to break new ground. Tell us about your non-profit organization, Aid the Silent.
Emma Faye: Aid the Silent services children who use oral and aural, spoken language and then those who use sign language. We do not discriminate based on language choices by the family or school for the language access that was personally successful for the child.
Aid the Silent wants children with hearing loss to have equal access to quality medical care, speech therapy and/or sign language resources, summer camp opportunities, hearing aids and assistive technology and ultimately this leads to success in their every day social lives and academics.
My job is basically being the hearing aid fairy every day, and I am seriously grateful to be able to service the deaf children whom I once was. It is a beautiful job, and I am thankful to live out my wildest dreams, which is to help children and teenagers with hearing loss. A lot of our work involves working hand-in-hand (LOL get it? Sign language joke! ) with regional school programs for the deaf and alongside the educators of the deaf. We love our teachers and the level of care they bring to children with hearing loss.
In May, you’ll be competing in the Miss Texas USA pageant. How do you plan to use that as a platform to continue to raise awareness about these important issues?
Emma Faye: This is my first time to compete within the Miss USA circuit. I have had wonderful times within the Miss America organization, but now I will be able to work towards my goals to become the first Miss USA who is deaf. This platform allows me the chance to meet with children with hearing loss from all over the nation and to educate the general populations about deafness and various disabilities.
My dream is to serve every single border town in Texas to provide hearing aids and medical care all the while as a Miss Texas USA titleholder. I want to be able to showcase hard work and service for others while holding a respected title within my state. This is a major opportunity to bring my advocacy work for hearing loss to the next level.
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