COVID-19 masks a special challenge for those who are deaf
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.
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.
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 masks that keep people safe from COVID, 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.
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