EDMONTON -- The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to people across Canada, but physical distancing is especially hard for the deaf and hard of hearing.

“It’s a hit and miss,” Sarah Snively told CTV News Edmonton through an interpreter. “I think if people are willing to communicate, and others simply refuse.”

Recently Snively went to a grocery store and tried to use her phone to ask for an item at the checkout counter.

“Some refuse, won’t attempt, they’ll put their hands up, ‘I can’t sorry.’ And I can’t speak, I can’t read lips, and I’ll point to phone and the clerk will just walk away.”

“There is some resistance out there. They’ll say ‘You can lip read, come on.’ And the deaf person will say ‘I don’t lip read, I don’t hear, I don’t speak, my way of communication is writing.’ The assumption is out there that all deaf people can lip read.”

But even for those that can lip read, the increasing use of masks has made that type of communication impossible.

“Wearing a mask, you’ve already taken so much of the communication away, the body language, the facial expressions which are incorporated on the face, the movements that our mouth articulates, those are all grammatical features, and that’s communication.”

But that doesn’t mean a conversation can’t happen. Snively said she might touch or point to her ear to signify she cannot hear or possibly speak.

She has used AirDrop on her phone to communicate, or held up her phone with a simple message – “Hi, I’m deaf, I need your help.”

“Allow a deaf person to tell you with their way of gesturing. You will see it. Follow their lead.” 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dave Mitchell