Couple in Louisiana shares the challenges of being deaf during a pandemic and the unique characteristics of deaf culture

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(SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, and it’s affected a group of people who already face daily challenges in our community.

I followed up with Open Hands Deaf Services one year after our last interview to find out how they are doing during these times:

Sign language is called a “living language” that bridges a world of silence to an outlet of communication. It’s how deaf people talk, while watching facial expressions and reading lips. So you can imagine how parts of the pandemic have impacted something most of us take for granted – the simple ability to hear and speak.

“Just a lot of confusion and communication break downs. People not knowing what to do,” said Cody Campbell, who was born deaf.

He sits next to his wife Melissa for our Zoom interview. Which does not actually ‘pop up’ their faces since the program only recognizes those talking, showing how despite technology, it’s still inhibiting for deaf.

Melissa said she became deaf at 18 months old as a side effect of Meningitis. Her and Cody married and raising two young boys in Benton, Louisiana. They told me, it’s already tough trying to communicate with people, but now the wearing of face masks have added another roadblock for them.

“When people have a mask on it’s really hard to understand them because I really recognize expressions. I read lips a little but it’s hard with a mask on. Sometimes I have to ask to pull the mask down and then they’re uncomfortable to do that. So it’s just hard,” Cody said.

“For me, I do a lot of lip reading and with a mask it’s just really awkward. It’s like trying to talk like this (as she gestures her hand over her face) and I don’t understand what they’re saying,” Melissa said. They said clear masks have their limitations as well, not to mention how they “fog up.”

The couple is communicating through Steve Evans,  an interpreter of American Sign Language. He’s also the founder of Open Hands Deaf Services, an organization that helps deaf people in our community. The non-profit operates in a Benton church, which is where I first met Cody and Melissa along with a group of local deaf people for a story in 2019. However, since the health crisis, they’ve had to cancel their weekly gatherings, which has been a hardship.

“It’s really hurt the deaf community because our culture really has the tendency to be together,” they said.

“Deaf people are collectivist. They do everything together,” Evans said. He explains that it is extremely important for deaf people to be able to interact with other deaf people. He explained it as though, the hearing spend their days riddled with noises and people talking. While deaf spend their days in silence. So while the hearing want to come home to relax and “get away.” Deaf just want somebody to talk to. So group culture is naturally more appealing to them. Deaf also travel and simply do most activities together because it’s not only easier to navigate the world of the hearing, but it’s more enjoyable in a group.

Most deaf use sign language to have conversations so they’re limited each day in their social interactions. Unless hearing people know sign language. Which why they said more sign language interpreters are needed. Especially on the national level.

“They really need to have an interpreter at the White House on TV. That was really one big problem for the deaf community. There was not deaf interpreter for the White House,” Cody said.

The Campbells’ said at the beginning of the health crisis, their community did not receive the information they needed.

“People became paranoid and there was a lot of confusion about the information and what was right and what was wrong. There were things we needed to understand,” Cody said.

“People became paranoid and there was a lot of confusion about the information and what was right and what was wrong. It was scary,” Melissa said.

The couple said the deaf are often left out or disregarded. So they want to educate the community about the culture. Which values friendship and a good conversation. Maybe inspiring some to learn the language.

“I think it’s a good idea for every elementary, middle school, and high school to have one class where they teach ASL. I think that would be wonderful, and people need to learn deaf culture also,” Cody said.

Open Hands Deaf Services is offering free classes to learn sign language and deaf culture. You can text “DEAF” to 55444 if you would like to join.

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