Students who are deaf overcome communication barriers as masks become the norm

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 6:25 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 10:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The pandemic has been an isolating experience for most, but it has especially been difficult for those who rely on reading lips and facial expressions to communicate.

For the students and staff at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind, masks have created literal barriers to communication.

With American Sign Language, the face is so important,” said Ali Tracey, who teaches middle school English. “And the kids depend on the lips and the mouth to be able to understand what’s going on, to catch what we’re trying to teach them.”

Tracey describes HSDB as the heart of the deaf world, where mostly everyone knows sign language and people can feel comfortable.

Those months where students were doing virtual learning took a huge toll.

“They just struggled with the online learning, watching that screen, having someone sign to them all day,” Tracey said.

She’s thankful that this community is back face-to-face learning — even if those faces are wearing masks.

“I really like it because there’s more interaction with the other kids,” said Velaine Joraur, a 10th grader at HSDB.

Joraur flies in from Maui and stays in the dormitory at the school.

“People at a mainstream school, it was really hard for me to communicate with them,” he said. “I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say.”

He said this school has helped him grow, and if there are ever times where he is feeling down, there are always friends nearby at HSDB.

David Hunter used to be a teacher at HSDB. In the middle of the pandemic, he landed the job as vice principal for Wilson Elementary School.

“For me, I was starting all over again, and I was very nervous,” he said. “But I made the right decision. I have learned so much about how to help run a school, how to help teachers grow, how to help the kids learn, keeping the campus safe.”

He said the hearing community can help those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing by being patient and working to communicate with them — whether it’s through texting, writing or other means.

Despite these obstacles, Hunter thinks that all of those communication barriers have taught everyone a priceless lesson.

“We learned to appreciate each other even more, we learned to value our time together,” he said.

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