JACKSONVILLE, Ill. (WAND) - Life has changed in the small town of Jacksonville.
Things came to a standstill and became much quieter after the COVID-19 outbreak started. For some residents, it has always been silent.
“It throws our entire daily routine out the window,” said Craig Kuhn, American Sign Language Interpreter at the Illinois School for the Deaf. “It immediately changed everything in a split second.”
Craig, Curt and Chris Kuhn are triplets. They all three work at the Illinois School for the Deaf, but what someone would not know by looking at them is that they all three are profoundly deaf.
“We don’t know the reason why we are deaf,” said Craig Kuhn. "But our parents didn’t know we were deaf until the age of two.”
They have adapted to their surroundings their whole lives. Now they are being forced to navigate a worldwide pandemic and the communication barriers that come with it.
“When a mask is on, I’m out,” said Chris Kuhn, physical education teacher at the Illinois School for the Deaf. “I can’t understand anything that person is going to say, so that reduces the ability to communicate with someone greatly.”
The recent order from the governor requiring masks has created a divide. With lip reading not an option, the men are having to find other ways to communicate.
“I rely on texting back and forth, writing back and forth and signing,” said Curt Kuhn, staff development specialist at the Illinois School for the Deaf.
It is not just trips to the grocery store or gas station that are challenging. It is also accessing current health information.
“Everybody needs a different form of communication,” said Curt Kuhn. "Some people like to read captioning and some want the American Sign Language interpreter.”
While deaf organizations have been pushing for the president to have an interpreter, state governors have had one at every briefing. It is important to note that neither the governor or his interpreter wear a mask to specifically assist the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
“Same with YouTube and when they send out videos about it,” said Craig Kuhn. "Captioning is OK with some of it and with some, it’s not. I don’t know what they’re saying. It’s been a real challenge for me.”
Without an interpreter or live captioning, it raises the question - are hearing-impaired people being left out of the conversation?
“Some people prefer live watching it instead of the captioning being added later,” said Craig Kuhn. "With the news it tends to be behind or not be right. It’s not smooth access at the same time.”
While navigating the outside world, home life has changed, too. The Kuhns are all fathers who have had to learn the ins and outs of E-learning with their kids.
“It’s so obvious it has impacted the kids who don’t have access to their friends or those to computers and Zoom,” said Curt Kuhn. "They’re isolated or by themselves. They don’t have communication going on at home.”
“They sign OK,” said Craig Kuhn. "It’s not fluid communication with their child. It’s very broken communication, but it’s a good thing, because Zoom has been able for us to support those families and communication with their children.”
When asked if communication barriers have taken a toll on their own mental health, all three men agreed patience is key.
“The trend right now (is) we have to face things as they come,” said Craig Kuhn.
“Patience is two-sided,” said Chris Kuhn. “It’s not just (the) deaf and hard-of-hearing community, it’s the hearing community as well. We all must work together. Be patient and learn together. When issues arise, we need to solve them to make them better in the future, whatever that might be.”
Members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities can find COVID-19 related resources by clicking here.