Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration


Public Administration

Major Advisor

Krista Paulsen, Ph.D.


Julie VanDusky-Allen, Ph.D.


Jen Schneider, Ph.D.


Elizabeth Schniedewind, Ph.D.


Amanda Ashley, Ph.D.


Masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, but they also impact communication for d/Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) people. This research is a mixed methods approach to analyzing the impact that the widespread use of masks in response to COVID-19 has had on DHH people. Building on the allowance for nuance and paradox presented by Deborah Stone in her book Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making (2012) and holding to the Social Model of Disability, this research involves the qualitative and quantitative analysis of a survey of one-hundred and ninety-eight (198) DHH people, interviews with fourteen (14) DHH people, and analysis of forty-one (41) United States statewide mask mandates, some of which provide exceptions that specifically mention, or may apply due to their ambiguity, to DHH people.

Findings in this research suggest that DHH people are extremely diverse in their communication methods used, cultural ideals, and personal identification language related to their deafness. Statewide mask mandates implemented later were more likely to include exceptions related to DHH people and more likely to use terminology that is deemed offensive by many DHH people. Masks had a significant impact on DHH people, and the impact was slightly higher for those who use spoken English as their primary language than for those who use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary language. However, both groups reported an impact on communication due to masks, and this impact had a negative emotional impact on participants including increased feelings of isolation, frustration, and embarrassment. Innovations in clear masks suggest a more accessible future, but there is a need for Accessibility By Default, rather than by request, for an accessible future to be achieved.