WILMINGTON, N.C. – Many people without hearing loss are struggling to understand what people are saying behind their masks. But for those that started out hearing nothing, they've lost a vital part of their communication system.

Daisy Rivenbark doesn't even rely on reading lips, which is impossible with a mask on. She prefers to use sign language any day, but what people don't realize is that although your hands do the talking, your face is still expressing. Putting a mask over your nose and mouth shuts out deaf people who rely on the movements of your jaw and your facial expressions to put together the whole story.

“Deaf people have their very specific way of using their mouth as grammatical structure in sign language,” says Rivenbark.

She's a mom of four and a deaf services specialist for the Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Every part of her life is already a challenge. Almost nothing in the world is catered to people with hearing loss on a regular basis, let alone during a pandemic.

“It's time now that people take a little extra time to gesture and make a point to talk to people,” says Rivenbark. “You can gesture, you don't necessarily need sign language.”

Her job is all about educating the hearing on what they can do to properly include the deaf in all aspects of life. She also provides those with a hearing impairment the tools they need to be successful in tasks that many who can hear take for granted.

“Many deaf people don't have the opportunity to show themselves and show how they shine because a person says 'Oh, they're deaf? Forget it!'” says Rivenbark.

During the pandemic, her job has shifted online, which presents another issue. Many of the people she works with don't have reliable internet. Video calls with glitching or lagging pictures make signing impossible.

COVID-19 is just one more challenge for her to conquer and she's determined that she will continue to struggle until she and everyone else with a hearing loss are treated equally.

“My purpose is to show that I'm strong and I'm deaf and I have my own rights,” says Rivenbark. “I don't want someone else to speak for me.”