COVID-19 masks single out hearing impaired

Attorney: lawsuits could be pending for ADA violations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some people with disabilities tell News4Jax they feel singled out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Masks not only muffle voices, they also cover people’s lips making it hard for those with hearing impairments who rely on reading lips to communicate.

News4Jax spoke with one woman who said she knew this virus was going to single out the hearing impaired and deaf community.

Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the recommendation for people to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Anne Marie Russell struggled with communicating.

“Today we went to Olive Garden, and the lady that keeps people from coming in at the door so they don’t conjugate tried to talk to me from four feet away,” Russell said. “And when I got close to her, she backed up. And then I was, like, ‘I’m hearing impaired, so I have no idea what you said,’ and she continued to back up.”

She said it’s instances like that that proves the masks don’t fit everyone. Even with making her own “hearing impaired” masks, she said it’s harder for people like her to get services.

News4Jax spoke with a civil attorney who said not all businesses are required to provide assistance, but businesses that do follow the American Disabilities Association regulations will still be held accountable.

“We can anticipate that there will be lawsuits based upon violation. Because we know that in the last month there are individuals out there who just have not been provided the access or the assistance that they’re required to by law,” the attorney said.

The ADA’s rules also apply to employment during the pandemic, where he said he expects to see claims from people who were terminated not only because of COVID-19 but because of their disability.

“I do see that,” Russell said. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘I can’t do this,’ and they’re gonna lose their jobs, and I don’t think it’s fair.”

Russell said while it’s been hard for her to find a job outside of her home because of her condition, she’s grateful for people who have made see-through masks with her community in mind.

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