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Deaf During the Pandemic: “It Was a Blessing in Disguise for Me”

She struggled with Covid-19 protocols—the closed businesses, wearing a mask—but her service dog and faith helped her cope.

Wellie and Jennifer; Photo courtesy: Jennifer Warsing

Jennifer Warsing of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, is completely deaf in her right ear and only has 12 percent hearing remaining in her left. Being able to see people’s expressions and mouths has always helped her communicate with others, so when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and wearing masks became the norm, her life dramatically changed.

As businesses slowly re-opened and folks started interacting more, Jennifer realized she was at a complete loss.

“Speech is muffled, I can’t read lips or facial expressions. It was like I hit a brick wall,” she says. “And because wearing a mask interferes with my hearing aids’ microphone and often causes my aids to fall off, it makes it that much more frustrating.”

But instead of just staying home, Jennifer made a decision. “Wearing a mask is far more important than wearing my aids,” she says. “At first I was nervous to go out without my aids, but I knew I wasn’t alone.” Jennifer’s certified hearing service dog, Wellie, accompanies her everywhere and during the pandemic, Jennifer realized how she really can trust her to be her ears 100 percent. “She senses my anxiety and stays close to me physically. She alerts me to traffic, when a phone is ringing, when someone enters a room and when someone is speaking.”

Even though Wellie had been helping Jennifer before the global health crisis, she says their bond has truly strengthened during this time. “Life is not normal right now and I would be at a loss without Wellie.”

Something else strengthened during these tumultuous months: her faith. “Due to the demand for a more accessible world through technology, I was able to find a deaf church online that streams their services in American Sign Language,” says Jennifer. “It’s been amazing.”

For someone who thought this pandemic was going to limit her more, Jennifer has been able to grow from it, putting her trust in both Wellie and God. “I know how devastating this disease has been for so many people. I’m not deaf to that,” she says. “But, for me, the restrictions put upon us during this time have actually been a blessing in disguise.”

That doesn’t mean Jennifer wants things to stay as they are.

“I pray for the day that masks are a thing of the past,” she says. “But until then, I thank God that I’ve been able to find a way through this—and for the gift of Wellie, my pandemic partner.”

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