COVID Masks: Special Challenge for Deaf


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— Four-hundred-sixty million people worldwide are deaf or hearing-impaired—34 million are children. The World Health Organization says people with hearing loss benefit from early interventions and access to communication like closed captioning and sign language. More on a college instructor who is working to overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19. COVID Masks

At the height of the pandemic, instructor Bill Cooper went virtual. Online teaching and learning is challenging for everyone—but Cooper has been deaf since birth, the result of a traumatic delivery.

“My face was blue as I was born. They thought I was dead,” shared William (Bill) Cooper, ASL instructor at University of Central Florida, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

(Read Full Interview)

As a child, American Sign Language became his lifeline. Now, Cooper teaches ASL to college students.

“I’m an exceptional student education major. For me personally, that means I want to work with kids with disabilities,” shared Abbie Brown, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida.

Cooper needs to see his students’ hands and faces. The COVID masks that keep people safe, prevent lip reading and block facial expression.

“It’s a visual language, you know, when you’re signing with someone and also, you’re able to sort of see their speech and everything,” explained Cooper, through an interpreter.

“So, when you remove facial expressions, it’s incredibly hard to understand the nuances or the context of what somebody is saying,” Brown illustrated.

One solution—clear masks, like the one worn by Cooper’s interpreter, Crystal Mallozzi. Cooper says he’s also paying very close attention to the parts of the face that are visible.

“You know, I can see your facial expression, if your eyebrows go up or down, I can see if you’re happy or upset,” Cooper described.

For online classes, Bill uses a large monitor, and he asks his students to have an empty background so he can focus on their fingers.

“The students think that ASL is maybe, beautiful! And that’s why a lot of folks are fascinated with it,” Cooper explained.

Using hands to continue to open new doors, even during a pandemic.

The National Association for The Deaf has additional recommendations for people who need assistance communicating right now. Additional COVID-19 information and resources are available online at WWW.NAD.ORG.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive & Field Producer; Matt Goldschmidt, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4858

BACKGROUND: Approximately 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss and of those, 34 million are children. One in every ten people will have disabling hearing loss and it’s estimated that by 2050 the number of people disabled by hearing loss will grow to almost 900 million. Hearing loss or deafness can be the result of many different causes such as genetics, complications or trauma during birth, infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, drug use, exposure to excessive noise, and aging.  Unfortunately, 60 percent of childhood hearing loss is related to preventable causes. Disabled hearing is a term used to describe hearing  loss of greater than 40 decibels for adults and hearing loss greater than 30 decibels in children. The majority of people with disabling hearing loss live in low- and middle-income areas.


COVID-19 IMPACTS: One of the best lines of defense against the COVID-19 virus is a COVID mask that covers both the mouth and nose blocking virus droplets from contaminating the air. However, they also block half of our facial expressions hindering nonverbal communication cues. This particular hurdle has uniquely impacted those with disabled hearing. The life-saving face masks inhibit lip reading and restrict the nuances of the ASL and other sign languages.


SOLUTIONS: In an effort to increase the amount of visibility, some people have begun to utilize and provide clear masks that show the mouth through a sealed, fog-resistant window. These transparent masks offer more visual information, like lip movement, helping those with disabled hearing feel less isolated while also promoting effective, safe, communication. The NAD (National Association of Deaf) outlines that efforts should be made during this pandemic to ensure access to captions, transcripts and written visual information. Remote educators and remote employees with disabled hearing or working with those with disabled hearing can utilize various methods for ensuring effective video call communication as well. This includes a good internet connection to avoid motion blur, a clear background so that hands and fingers are easily visible when signing, and for those with hearing-loss—a large monitor to maximize the visual information available.

(Source:,  William (Bill) Cooper, American Sign Language Instructor, University of Central Florida, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders)




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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for William (Bill) Cooper, American Sign Language Instructor

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