When IU senior Katherine Brown enters a silent classroom, she can hear everything.
A student seated next to her clears her throat. As a student sits in a chair nearby, she can hear the seat squeak. Across the room, her professor shuffles through her bag. Brown adjusts her hearing aids and moves to focus on the notebook in front of her.
Her biology professor begins to speak to the class while, of course, wearing a mask. Brown can’t watch her professor’s lips move.
Sometimes, Brown, a biology and psychology double major, misses out on information in class despite how hard she pays attention to the professor speaking. When she talks to her peers with masks on, she may just smile, nod and occasionally laugh even if she doesn’t know what is being said.
Her hearing aids amplify the sound frequencies she might not be able to hear normally. However, she has an auditory processing disorder that prevents her from filtering out background noise.
The treatment for each contradicts the other, Brown said.
Brown exists as a person who is hard of hearing in a world dependent on hearing, she said. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to obtain the accommodations she already has to advocate for daily. She said she used to lip read to understand what people were saying. Now, she doesn’t have that option.
“With COVID, it’s the same thing,” Brown said. “Just worse.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the world faced extraordinary challenges in communication, social interaction and safety. Jobs became virtual, students took online classes and only saw their peers in person in a sea of mask-covered faces.
Vaccine availability and fewer hospitalizations nationwide have allowed for mask mandate removals. As of Nov. 29, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Monroe County is 5.78%, according to the Indiana COVID-19 dashboard. IU students can take masks off while outdoors on campus. Bars, restaurants and clubs are open and full of largely maskless crowds.
Other than the use of masks indoors, it seems like normalcy has almost returned.
For the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, however, some of these challenges persist.