NewsLocal News


Signing through the pandemic: Members of Utah's Deaf community share experiences

Posted at 9:58 PM, May 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-23 17:34:54-04

CENTERVILLE, Utah — As mask mandates continue to end across the country, those who were possibly impacted the most are sharing their experiences.

The pandemic shed light on many challenges throughout Utah communities, but one group was impacted differently.

A dog barks and family pictures hang on the wall of Alicia and Chris Flygare’s home in Centerville. The couple has lived in the home for nearly two decades, moving in on the day their second child, a daughter, was born.

The Flygares have a lot in common, faith and the love of their family, but they also speak the same language.

“I liked that we both had that common connection of ASL,” said Alicia.

That’s important because the Flygares are deaf.

“I was born five minutes after my older brother and they think that’s what caused my cerebral palsy,” said Alicia. “My deafness was from my lack of oxygen.”

To communicate with FOX 13 News, meteorologist Brek Bolton served as an interpreter and Sariah Stapp with Five Star Interpreting gave Alicia’s voice sound.

Alicia grew up with three brothers and two sisters, none of them who know American Sign Language.

“My twin brother signs a little bit, but not a lot,” said Alicia. “During family time when everyone was speaking, I wasn’t able to engage in that because it was a very big challenge for me. I wasn’t able to communicate.”

Alicia later learned ASL in high school, which is now her preferred language.

Technology has opened up Alicia’s world. She sees when the doorbell rings, and phone calls are videos calls.

“In order to communicate, I use close captioning on the TV,” said Alicia. “We have different resources out there like alarm clocks that use flashing lights, so those flashing lights help me know where I need to be.”

Yet, Alicia still faces challenges every single day as a deaf person, and like so many experienced, the pandemic brought a whole new set of struggles.

Maskers were one of them, making it impossible to read lips and interpret expressions.

“For me, it was really challenging just to not to see half of people’s face,” said Alicia. “I was not able to catch a lot of the language.”

Ordering food at restaurants was tricky. Sometimes Alicia would ask employees to pull their mask down so she could read their lips, but some people were not willing to do that.

The Flygares both work as teachers, tutoring deaf children and their parents in ASL, but even that was moved online.

“Before we would go to the park and teach the signs of the objects we were seeing out in the community,” said Alicia.

It was learning to sign that helped Alicia find her voice and an inner strength to navigate the challenges of life.

“I was happier as I understood my deaf identity,” said Alicia. “I remember I grew up thinking that I had a really had a challenging time learning things and understanding things and I thought that that was my fault. I thought it was something that was about me until later I realized it wasn’t my fault.”

This realization helped Alicia accept herself as a deaf person and she hopes others will accept her and the deaf community.

It’s just something that happened, and I realized I had to let go of that and I could accept myself as a deaf person.

“It really does require teamwork,” said Alicia. “It’s a two-way street and that’s the important part. It’s not a one-way street.”

Alicia suggested phone apps to communicate with those in the deaf community, but also encourages all to learn a little bit of ASL to connect more personally with those who can’t hear.

State leaders told FOX 13 News that they kept the deaf community in mind throughout the entire pandemic. Every press briefing had an interpreter from the Department of Workforce Services, standing to the side of the speaker, signing.

Wade Mathews, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management, said it was a huge focus to make sure all communities understood the information they were publishing.

“This is lifesaving information we’re talking about that we need to make sure everybody’s receiving,” said Mathews. “Whether it’s protection action orders to evacuate or shelter in place or in the case of the pandemic, the proper protective equipment, masks, hand washing and hygiene, and social isolation and social distancing — that needs to be communicated to everyone.”

Press briefings were interpreted into 33 different languages, making Utah one of the States with the most languages.