Being a deaf lipreader during a pandemic means increased social anxiety

I had a stressful summer, preparing to teach in-person classes to masked students whose lips I could not see. At my last hearing test, my ears checked out fine, but for years I have been relying on watching people’s lips as a way to help my brain isolate a specific speaker.

My students have been very patient, but I’ve had to adjust my teaching methods, and that meant a few days of me figuring out what works.

All my classes have some students who attend only on Zoom, so when a student in the classroom asks a question, I can ask them to “turn on the mics so everyone can hear,” and then when they ask their question again I can hear it through my earbuds. (I have to filter out the sounds of their in-person voices, since the electronic voice is slightly delayed, but I’m getting better at this.)

Even social events are a minefield. The more people there are, the more spread out everyone is. My excellent lipreading skills can’t surmount distance. I also find myself avoiding things I used to enjoy, like going to stores by myself. I don’t want to worry about one-way conversations.

“Adfl etgjw ilserj mjikas!” That’s what everyone will sound like, if I can hear them at all.

What’s a deaf person to do, at least until face shields become de rigueur?

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I don’t always know when someone’s speaking to me, and they won’t always know that I can’t hear. I’m going to feel funny aiming my phone, sometimes with a directional microphone (to better transcribe people at a distance). But I tell myself that this will be eye-opening for others and make them realize how privileged they are to hear.

I don’t want to get COVID-19 and end up seriously ill. If I end up hospitalized, I’ll be segregated. Everyone will be wearing masks, and my husband won’t even be able to interpret.

It’s ironic; I’ve been deaf since birth, but the current situation is when I’ve been most cognizant of my disability

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