DALLAS — Putting on a mask helps you from spreading COVID-19, but when you're hard of hearing, they can hinder your ability to communicate with others.
Quarantine is over for many of us, but some in the deaf community still feel alone. That's because hearing loss and deafness are sometimes referred to as invisible disabilities.
Devan Peplow is someone who feels like she shouldn't have to come with a "lives with hearing loss" sticker plastered on her forehead. Multiple ear surgeries as a kid are why Peplow has some hearing loss now.
"I was know for sitting differently in classrooms where I would just turn a little [to hear], and I would ask, 'What? Can you say that again?' My friends are very used to Devan asking, 'Can you say that one more time?'" Peplow said.
The same type of support she's been given throughout the years is the same kind of support she wants to give others. She is in the middle of launching a phone app called Sounde as a hearing loss solution. She understands how difficult it can be for someone hard of hearing when almost everyone around them is wearing a mask.
"They created masks with the plastic front one on them, so that people could read lips. There is no perfect solution because then those would fog up," she explained.
Peplow is working with other current and former Texas Christian University students on the app. Their goal also is to be more affordable than hearing aids, which have an average cost of $1,000 to $4,000.
"That moment hits that you realize that there is probably something I need to do about this," Peplow added.
In theory, Peplow would be helping out people like Carli Culpepper, who is completely deaf in one ear and 80% deaf in the other. Culpepper said she feels like a burden to people when she's grocery shopping or out on a coffee run. It's hard for her to get others to either slow down or talk louder so she can understand.
"From there I will ask can they write it down or if they can text it to me. People will be like, 'Ah okay, nevermind,' They don't make me feel like I'm part of the conversation or the community," Culpepper said.
At home, Culpepper has a caption phone that types out word for word what the person on the other end is saying.
"It's awesome, but it's about a 10-second delay," Culpepper explained.
When she learned about the Sounde app and how it could help her keep conversations going outside of her home, Culpepper said it sounded like a good idea. Culpepper and Peplow are now connected, and both plan on having more conversations about what else can be done to help a community that feels invisible because of their disability.