‘I was heartbroken’: Mask mandate creates communication challenges for deaf community

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 8:57 PM EDT
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SHORT PUMP, Va. (WWBT) - The mask mandate in Virginia is creating communication challenges for the deaf community. One woman said she faced communication issues after a Walmart employee refused to pull down his mask to help her.

Simone Koltz said she understands the mask mandate but she simply asked for them to lower it just a little so she could read their lips.

“A bomb could go off beside me and I could feel the vibrations, but I could not hear it,” Klotz said.

When asked what she missed the most, Simone said she missed hearing the sound of people talking. Tumors robbed Klotz of her ability to hear 10 years ago.

“I miss the sound of rain. I miss my music,” Klotz said.

Klotz now communicates by reading lips, so the coronavirus mask mandate makes it harder than ever.

A recent trip to Walmart in Short Pump to buy a printer turned impossible.

“They had the Plexiglas up and he had his mask up and I said, ‘Sir, I’m deaf and I need for you to lower your mask so I can read your lips,” Klotz said.

Simone said she worked at this Walmart years ago but didn’t know anyone there currently.

“He had this look on his face and he was shaking his head saying he wasn’t going to do that,” Klotz said.

Simone said the employee lowered his mask just to say it was against the rules then quickly raised it back up.

“He pointed at the empty shelves and he was pointing and talking with his mask on and I said, ‘forget it,‘” Klotz said.

Simone said several other workers refused to lower their masks when she asked for help.

“My heart was hurting. I was in Short Pump Walmart and I live in Chester, and I cried the entire way home,” Klotz said.

So, what are your rights if you have a disability? A legal analyst for NBC12 said stores are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to make accommodations, but because of COVID-19, no set rules have been established.

Simone said all she wants is a little compassion.

“When someone asks for a reasonable accommodation, then do it,” Klotz said.

A representative for Walmart sent this statement:

“We appreciate this being brought to our attention and have addressed the issue with store management. During this challenging time we’re working to balance health and safety concerns while still meeting the needs and expectations of our customers and associates.”

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