I did not grow up as a CODA or Child of a Deaf Adult. This is a hearing child who has one or both parents identify as culturally Deaf. The new Apple TV+ film ‘CODA’ highlights the experience of a teen girl who lives with her parents and an older brother, all of whom are Deaf and communicate using ASL (American Sign Language).
During the current Covid-19 pandemic when most moviegoers are avoiding movie theaters to help mitigate the spread of this virus, having a major streaming service bring this film to mass audiences is a cause of celebration for the hard of hearing and Deaf communities. It explores a culture that is often misunderstood because there are so few related stories being shared within the mainstream. Which leads to the relevance of ‘CODA’ being released in 2021.
She Is My Ears, My COHHA
My teen daughter and two teen sons have grown up as COHHAs, Children of a Hard of Hearing Adult. Let me describe their world during the current pandemic.
Setting: a drive-up restaurant window with a cashier wearing a face mask. I am in the driver’s seat, my 17-year-old daughter in the passenger seat.
Cashier (looking at me): “Would you like a receipt?”
Me: (stares at cashier’s face mask that prevents lipreading, remains quiet)
My daughter the COHHA: “Yes.”
Cashier: “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
Me: (looks at my COHHA who lowers her face mask)
COHHA: “He asked if you need anything else, mom.”
Cashier: (watches my COHHA, scrunches eyebrows in confusion)
Me: (looks at cashier) “No thank you.”
This real-life scenario, which plays out multiple times a month, makes me wonder how much burden my daughter the COHHA carries when out in the Pandemic Public with me. She must listen. She must lower her face mask. She must repeat questions I do not hear.
During pre-Covid times, I mostly did fine at drive-through windows because I could read the speakers’ lips. That all changed when half of people’s faces became hidden behind cloth or three-ply paper masks. Now all I see is half-hidden faces at the drive-up window or grocery store checkout line or bank or anywhere else on the face of the earth.
I call it the Sea of Masks, with waves of expressionless eyes peeping out.
What used to be my burden to carry (lipreading) has now become my children’s because lips are concealed. I have to rely on my children’s normal sense of hearing to function in all the settings where face masks exist. Which is pretty much everywhere in 2021.
Those of you who are hard of hearing may question why I now rely so much on someone else’s ears to understand speech. Why can’t I just use technology? Turn up the hearing aids? Use a phone captioning app? Ask for pencil and paper to communicate? I’ve tried all these things. The reality is that my hearing aids are programmed at the most accessible setting and yet I still don’t hear 100 percent of masked speech. I have used phone captioning apps, and they sometimes work and sometimes type @#@#@# instead of intelligible speech. I even attempted the old school pencil-and-paper method, and both me and the other person became frustrated and just gave up writing notes.
The reality is: I read people’s lips. This is the best way for me to understand speech, and that accessibility has been taken away by Covid-19. I’ve advocated for people who communicate with me to wear clear face masks, which reveal the lips through transparent vinyl or plastic. But even that has proven ineffective because clear masks are not readily available to the public. The clear masks I have given to others have mostly not been used, with the excuse “I can’t breathe in this mask” given for why people don’t wear them much. Sigh, sigh, sigh…
Understanding the Role of CODAs and COHHAs, and Why They Need Help
No one signed up CODAs or, in my case, COHHAs for the job of Communication Facilitator with a Hearing World. It just is what it is. Until more allies join those of us who are hard of hearing or Deaf in advocating for our communication needs, I must rely on my daughter and my 20-year-old son and my 13-year-old son for understanding this face mask world.
If you are a hearing person, I plead with you. Help make this Covid-19 world less of a burden for my COHHAs. Advocate for accessible technology (use of reliable closed captions) and clear face masks to be used in every business you encounter. Share my story and how I must rely on my 17-year-old daughter for the role of being my ears in public settings.
Think about me and my daughter the next time you see someone wearing a three-ply face mask at the drive-through window. Be an advocate for us.
How can we make this Covid world more accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.