End of indoor mask mandate a game-changer for deaf, hard of hearing students in Washington state

Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 9:37 PM PST
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VANCOUVER, Wash. (KPTV) - Without a doubt, masks certainly stifle language, but for those who are deaf or hard of hearing it can be difficult to communicate at all.

As Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced an end to the mask mandate in most public spaces starting next month, FOX 12 spoke to a leader of a Vancouver school for the deaf.

Rick Hauan is the executive director for the Washington Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss, the organization that oversees the Washington School for the Deaf.

At the school, students learn American Sign Language and English, and access to facial expression is critical in both languages.

“It has been a very challenging period of time and we are looking forward to the time when we can go back to full access to face and body language, facial expression and that,” Hauan said.

Hauan told FOX 12 the school fully complies with the state mask mandate, except for specific exemptions where students and staff can remove their masks for short periods of time -- while social distancing – in order to learn or communicate.

“It’s an automatic step-aside and social distance. and then it’s mask up as soon as we can,” Hauan said.

The option to remove the masks next month will be a game-changer, both in the classrooms and out and about in the world.

“It will really change how students are able to access information and adults and we are really looking forward to getting back to that barrier-free lifestyle,” Hauan said.