Northeast DC organization helps deaf community through pandemic

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While we are seeing an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the DC region due to the BA-2 subvariant, we are also seeing an increase in people’s level of anxiety. Now imagine how this anxiety affects people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Courtesy of Deaf Reach Inc.

This is part of WTOP’s ongoing coverage of people making a difference in our community written by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Learn more about this coverage.

Bridging the communications gap between the hard of hearing, the deaf, and the hearing during a global pandemic has been a daunting challenge that a northeast DC-based organization — Deaf Reach Incorporated — faces every day.

While we are seeing an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the DC region due to the BA-2 subvariant, we are also seeing an increase in people’s level of anxiety. Now imagine how this anxiety affects people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Our goal is to help people who are deaf and hard of hearing maximize their independence,” said Michele May, the organization’s executive director.

They provide physical and mental health assistance as well as housing. May says that at the height of the pandemic, “everyone was masked, so deaf people couldn’t see lips moving or facial expressions. And, it just created a lot of confusion.


Read more: How the pandemic may have impacted our communication skills.


She said it made deaf people even more isolated than they normally did and exacerbated an already difficult situation.

“It’s hard for deaf people to get along at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, on the subway,” says May. She added that they have seen an increase in depression and substance abuse among clients.

May describes Deaf Reach as a family atmosphere.

Michele May is the current Executive Director of Deaf Reach, Inc.

“Most staff are deaf or hard of hearing and all services are provided in sign language or some form of sign language,” she says.

As they enter their 50th year in the DC area, May says the plan is to redevelop and reposition their properties.

“We decided to develop affordable housing for deaf and hard of hearing people in the Brookland community and create more space for people who need additional subsidized housing,” says May.

The organization’s current plan is to create two buildings: one for group living with staff on site 24 hours a day to provide physical and mental health support and the second for affordable housing.

Deaf Reach, Inc. is located at 3722 12th St. NE and can be contacted through its website deaf-reach.org.

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