Northeast DC organization helps deaf community through pandemic

Courtesy of Deaf Reach Inc.

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

Bridging the communications gap between hard of hearing, deaf and hearing people during a global pandemic has been a hefty challenge that one organization based in Northeast D.C. — Deaf Reach Incorporated — faces every day.

As we see an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the D.C. area due to the BA-2 subvariant, we also see an increase in people’s levels of anxiety. Now, imagine how that anxiety impacts people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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

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

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

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

“It’s challenging for deaf people in a good period of time to get along at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, on the Metro,” May says. She added that they saw increased depression and addiction among clients.

May describes Deaf Reach as a family-like atmosphere.

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

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

As they move into their 50th year in the D.C. area, May says the plan is to redevelop and reposition their properties.

“We’ve decided to develop some affordable housing for people who are deaf and hard of hearing in the Brookland community and to create a larger space for people who need additional supported housing,” May says.

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

Deaf Reach, Inc. is located at 3722 12th St. N.E. and can be reached using their website

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