Video Raises Awareness After Deaf Woman Denied Service During Pandemic at Dunkin’ Donuts

Why it's important to accomodate people with disabilities.

A deaf woman's video has gone viral on TikTok after sharing her story of being refused service. In an emotional two-part video, Shannon Heroux recounted to viewers how staff at Dunkin' Donuts declined to remove their masks during the COVID-19 pandemic so she could read their lips.

"I've never been refused service before. It hurts," she said. Heroux said that though she usually wears a cochlear implant to help her hear better, she wasn't wearing it at the time she entered the store. As a result, she requested the staff behind the counter lower her mask so she could use lip-reading to communicate.

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How Staff Refused to Help

Heroux says the person behind the counter refused. She then asked to speak to a manager who also declined to pull his mask down. The store staff also refused to write on a notepad to communicate with her, even though she repeatedly told them she was deaf and couldn't understand what they were saying.

"I was confused, I couldn't hear anything," she said. Heroux also said that because she speaks clearly, she believes that people frequently don't believe her when she says she's deaf.

Teaching About Hearing Disabilities

Heroux then used her experience as a teaching moment for others.

"It's very important the world understands that not every deaf person is equal. By that I mean, there's different stages and different circumstances," she said. "Those with cochlear implants or hearing aids have a much higher advantage than the deaf people who don't wear a hearing device or only depend on sign language.

It's important that the stigma surrounding the deaf community be corrected. I am a deaf person, who has great speech, can hear and communicate very well, and is also an incredible lip reader. You'd never know I was deaf unless I tell you. If there were no masks today, I could still operate [in] this world deaf, because the advantage of lipreading would be there and no one would be the wiser."

How the Pandemic Hinders People With Disabilities

While Heroux said she's never been refused service before, she did express that she's gone through difficulties at other stores. Also, the pandemic, in particular, has been a hard time for her and told her viewers she hopes companies will work to be more accommodating of people with hearing loss.

"Every single big chain establishment needs to incorporate some training on how to properly handle situations where communication through masks is impossible," Heroux said. "What happened to me was not properly handled and that needs to be corrected.

Speech and sound don't travel through the masks effectively. The masks aren't going away anytime soon so extra measures should be taken for healthy and effective communication."

Dunkin' Donuts Response

Heroux shared in a later video posted to her TikTok account that a representative from Dunkin' Donuts reached out to her and was apologetic. Dunkin' Donuts also responded to Health's request for comment, saying, "We take matters like this very seriously. At Dunkin', we are committed to creating a welcoming environment and treating every guest with dignity and respect. We have contacted the guest to apologize, and we are actively working with her to resolve the matter."

Raising Awareness

"A lot of people who are hard of hearing or deaf are dependent on lip reading. With the need to wear masks, it's very difficult to communicate in public right now," Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngologist, and laryngologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Health.

Heroux's experience "really highlights the need for people to be more aware of the experiences others are dealing with," James Connor Sullivan, Au.D., an audiologist at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Health. Dr. Sullivan, who also uses a cochlear implant, points out that while verbal information is important, "a lot of auditory information is visual."

"When you have your face obscured, you're missing out on those visual cues people lean heavily on," he says. Dr. Sullivan stresses the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but says there are some options available to help patients with hearing loss. He suggests using an app like Google Translate, which can convert speech into text.

Solutions to the Problem

Dr. Mehdizadeh agrees, noting that speech-to-text apps are easily accessible. "You can just speak into the phone. It's a very simple way of helping people who are hard of hearing," he says. Visual menus that people can point to are also helpful, he says, along with eliminating background noise whenever possible.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) also encourages the use of clear masks when possible to help with communication, and suggests that people who have hearing loss carry a fully charged cell phone to type messages that they can show to a person.

Dr. Sullivan encourages people to try to understand that this is an especially difficult time for people with hearing loss. "Hearing loss is one of those disorders that are invisible," he says. "Just a little decency to your fellow humans is appreciated."

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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