Unlike some colleges, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will have students on campus for the fall semester. However, students will be required to wear a face mask when outside of their dorm rooms. It will be a challenge for everyone, but especially for hearing-impaired students who rely on lip reading.
Morgan Dickey, a senior majoring in advertising and public relations at UNL, has been deaf since birth. For her, all that matters is having a senior year in person.
“I don’t exactly need the traditional senior year experiences,” she said. “I’m most looking forward to just seeing people … but also completing my education.”
UNL’s “Forward to Fall” committee established policies and guidelines on June 18 that intend to respect everybody’s safety on campus. One of the regulations requires students, employees and visitors to cover their faces with a mask when inside campus buildings and in some outdoor spaces.
“This facial-covering policy has been established because we respect and care for ourselves and every person that we encounter on campus,” according to UNL’s “Forward to Fall” statement.
Students and faculty are required to wear a mask in the classroom.
William Parker, a junior hospitality, restaurant and tourism management major, lost his hearing at 8 months old and got his first implant at 15 months old. He said this would be difficult for his learning because he relies on lip-reading.
“It’ll be really hard for me,” he said. “But, I’m really lucky to work so closely with the (Services for Students with Disabilities) office.”
The SSD office has been helping Parker by “providing resources to overcome challenges like these.” Dickey thinks that UNL should collaborate with the SSD office so other students who are hearing impaired can benefit.
“The only thing that will really be able to help us is (UNL) collaborating with SSD,” she said. “They could come up with alternative solutions for those classrooms in which the deaf and hard of hearing individuals will be in.”
Everybody is making adjustments for this fall, including Richard Alloway, a broadcasting professor of 35 years. He has been making modifications to his classroom and to the equipment his class uses during the school year.
“They are going through room modifications, personal protective equipment and hand sanitizing stations,” he said. “I’m willing to do whatever we need to do to be safe.”
He has not had many hearing impaired students during his years of teaching at UNL. He can imagine, though, the challenges they will face this upcoming semester.
“I’m not very familiar with this topic, but I would assume that if lip-reading is their main way of detecting speech, then it will be difficult for them,” he said.
Dickey agrees with UNL’s policy about wearing face coverings on campus all the time.
“I completely agree with face mask wearing,” she said. “It’s a great decision because not only will that make me feel safer, but it will also mitigate spread.”
Parker says he has always been an extrovert. Quarantine has been challenging because he had to “close himself off from other people.” However, when he has met people who are wearing face masks, he struggles to hear them.
“It’s been really hard navigating this challenge,” he said. “I’ve been asking people to speak up a little bit more, and I have to listen more intently and closely now to make sure I’m hearing them.”
The UNL administration announced it would be buying more than 60,000 face masks that will be distributed for all students, faculty and staff for the fall semester. According to the Hearing, Speech and Deaf Center website, they recognize that hearing impaired people struggle to lipread with standard face masks. To help with those struggling to communicate, they provided step-by-step instructions on deaf-friendly masks.
These masks have a fabric with clear plastic in the middle that is “thick and durable.” This would allow those who rely on lip-reading to be
able to see one’s lips.
“That would certainly be a real benefit,” Alloway said. “Especially to someone who does need to be able to watch someone’s lips.”
Parker has heard of the clear face masks and believes “that they will help a lot.” If they don’t have them, though, he thinks the students should have access to interpreters and scribers.
“Every student (should have) access to … whatever is needed to make sure they’re the most successful,” he said. “I’m sure (UNL) will be more than happy to … ensure that there are enough resources for every hard-of-hearing student on campus.”
With all the uncertainty about fall semester, Dickey believes that everybody needs to be adaptable.
“No one really knows what’s happening (this fall semester),” she said. “We need to be open-minded, patient and make sure that we’re standing up for ourselves and what we need for our education.”