Deaf community facing mental health challenges amid pandemic

The deaf and hard of hearing community continues to face barriers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The President of the Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing said a lack of access to important COVID-19 information has led to stress and isolation within their community. They also continue to struggle with just everyday communication.

"Mental health is a big issue right now," Jimmy Peterson explained. "It's a lot of loneliness."

While public health officials continue to urge everyone to wear masks in public, it hinders communication for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

For instance, activities like grocery shopping or ordering dinner would likely require folks to remove their face covering or get close to read a text message.

"With hard of hearing people, it's really harder for them because it really impacts them. They don't really rely too much on sign language. They rely on a lot of lip reading and the face masks prevent that from happening in an effective way," Peterson described.

A sign language interpreter assisted FOX 5 with a Zoom call to interview Peterson for this story.

He said ASL interpreters are vital to getting the latest and most accurate information surrounding the deadly virus.

"We don't have the sensibility or access to information. For people in the hearing community, they can hear people talking and they can get the word of mouth much more quickly than the deaf community," Peterson explained.

In September, the National Association of the Deaf, along with five deaf Americans, sued the White House for not having a sign language interpreter at the daily briefings.

"All the information is in English, it's in that form. So, we depend on visual language," said Peterson.

To help combat mental health concerns like fear and isolation, he said the organization relies heavily on virtual outreach programs and video calls.

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Peterson also talked about challenges for kids doing virtual learning.

He said, "More than 90 percent of these deaf children have parents who don't know sign language."

He also points out small accommodations anyone can make like wearing clear masks, writing notes, or texting during everyday encounters.

"They should be mindful to bring down their masks for deaf people, so we will be able to read their lips," Peterson described.