Former Miss San Antonio asks people to #ShowYourLips during COVID-19

Emma Faye Rudkin of nonprofit Aid the Silent wants people to wear clear masks to communicate effectively with deaf people, hearing disabilities

Emma Faye Rudkin, a two-time former Miss San Antonio and founder of the nonprofit Aid the Silent, is speaking out against the neglect deaf people and those with hearing disabilities are facing during COVID-19.
Emma Faye Rudkin, a two-time former Miss San Antonio and founder of the nonprofit Aid the Silent, is speaking out against the neglect deaf people and those with hearing disabilities are facing during COVID-19.

SAN ANTONIO – Emma Faye Rudkin, a two-time former Miss San Antonio and founder of the nonprofit Aid the Silent, is speaking out against the neglect deaf people and those with hearing disabilities are facing during COVID-19.

Through her social media platforms, Rudkin is challenging businesses and person who can hear clearly to show their lips and join the movement #ClearToBeClear.

“I’m not asking (people) to not wear a mask. I’m promoting that they wear a clear mask,” Rudkin said. “If that’s not an option, then (businesses and individuals can) come up with a different way to communicate.”

Clear face masks have become readily available online, including Aid the Silent’s website. Participants are asked to take a selfie wearing their clear face covering and post a picture on social media using the hashtag #ClearToBeClear and #ShowYourLips.

In an emotional video shared last week on Rudkin’s Facebook page, she shared her frustrations while interacting with those who wear a face covering, as she claims it was left her feeling isolated and mistreated by business.

“What is happening in our world is (we’re) not being aware of people with disabilities,” Rudkin said on her Facebook video. “We’re not being involved in a conversation on how to protect and advocate (our community with disabilities).”

Rudkin’s 12-minute video comes after her negative experience during COVID-19 while visiting a gym where she’s a member. The name of the gym was never disclosed by her.

Deaf People are being left out in COVID-19 Mandates!

Don’t forget the deaf or those with Disabilities #ShowYourLips #CLEARtobeClear #AidtheSilent Our world is taking 100 steps backwards right now for people are deaf or with disabilities. Don’t turn me away because you are not willing to work with me or accommodate me in spite of masks. Be inventive and inclusive right now Thank you CaptionSource, LLC and Aid the Silent Captions: >> Emma: Good morning. I wanted to share a few things that have just been heartbreaking during this time. I know that all of us are experiencing something that is very serious and personal, and we are hurting in different ways, but I feel like I'm not doing my job if I'm not sharing what's happening to the deaf community, a community with disabilities. I've been waiting and seeing what's going to happen, if some type of movement sparks for the deaf during this time, but right now, as someone deaf, I am suffering and I'm being left out and I'm hearing story after story of all of the sudden people who are deaf or have disabilities, we have no rights during the time. Everything is superseding what the ADA promises to protect people with disabilities. And it's our 30th anniversary, so people with disabilities have only had rights ‑‑ I've only had rights on paper, in the world for 30 years. That's it. So last night ‑‑ Hey, Josiah, hi. So we're talking about disabilities during this time. Seeing posts of people in living group homes and even in just ‑‑ I don't have words for what I've been seeing, but even people and the elderly, they're being left for weeks because workers are not showing up to work and hearing stories because of my position of people who are older with disabilities being left without having clean clothes, without being fed, being left in beds and having bed sores, and even myself, personally, of what is happening in our world is not being aware of people with disabilities. I can hardly go to the grocery store right now. I can hardly go order anything for myself. Even going to the grocery store, has so much anxiety and awfulness to go. So last night ‑‑ this is my fifth incident where as an individual I no longer have right, because all of a sudden ‑‑ which there's reasons, there's COVID guidelines, I understand, but we have to come up with a solution, because this I don't understand anything. I can't decipher what's happening in my world. So many people that are deaf or have disabilities, we are suffering. We've been left out of conversations, of our world right now. And so this, how do you interact? And then everyone is panicking, so you can't even get curbside right now; wait list after wait list. So there's some things that have to change when we're looking forward is people with disabilities, we're being left at home, we're being stuck. So last night, I had an awful experience once again. This is like my ‑‑ probably my 20th time to experience something like this, but my whole life, I fought that people would not speak to my parents, they would speak to my friends, that they would not speak over me like I'm a child, but they would speak to me, and all of a sudden I've lost that, because you cannot understand. So they're looking to my parents, oh, explain this, or tell her this, and my whole life has been fighting that that would not happen, that I would not lose that right to speak for myself or understand or order my own food, things like that. And so last night ‑‑ of course there's so many rules and it changes every day, every three days there's something new. I understand, but what's happening is we're not being involved in the conversation of how to protect ourselves and how to advocate and how to understand and how to not have anxiety and how to have access for what's happening, and the Governor, some of it is not even interpreted or it's frozen or the captions are covering it, or the interpreter disappears when they show the PowerPoint, so we don't even understand ‑‑ I'm having to explain to deaf people what is even happening in the world because it's not accessible right now. And all the material virtual right now, it's not captioned, it's not thinking about other people. I literally look on Instagram and I don't understand a thing, because it's not accessible, but all of a sudden they're saying we're so inclusive and inviting people, well, you're leaving out the disability community that has not had rights except for 30 years. And the church wasn't even forced to follow the ADA, because they're outside the ADA, so you as a church, you're 30 years behind including people, including them in the gospel, 30 years behind, what a shame. And so we have got to get in the game of not letting this tragedy and this brokenness in the world and the pandemic all of a sudden freeze us and give us the excuse that we don't need to keep fighting for disabilities, and that is what's happening. So last night, I had this horrible confrontation where of course they kept changing the rules, so I don't understand what's happening, and it's not on the website. If you're going to change a rule that changes how I'm going to interact with that place of business, you need to have it written out. You need to have it clear. On the website, written out on paper, and show me or have it interpreted or have it captioned, you need to do something, instead of getting mad that I don't understand. So I had not known that there was this new rule at the gym, that you couldn't bring guests, and I had a guest that drove 30 minutes to meet me there, really just to have companionship and to have someone understand what I'm going through right now, and what deaf people and disabilities are experiencing right now, so came to work out with me, to do something that I love. And we get there, like no guests. I'm sorry, but I'm deaf, what are you even saying? So they kept talking to my friend over me. Explain to your friend this. And I'm ‑‑ I'm deaf, you have to lower this for a short time and explain the rule, because it's not written, its not shown. I don't know what you're saying right now. And so I was getting very upset, because you have to find an inventive way to tell me this. Don't keep speaking to my friend and then turn me away from the gym. You're taking away the fact that I've paid a membership. I'm involved here. I've come here before. I have a service dog. Like obviously I have a disability. And so I'm asking, I'm begging, please, try to explain to me what's happening because ‑‑ and she was saying, no, I'll get fined, I refuse to take off my mask, I can't. So where's that middle ground? Where is the fact that she refuses, she's not going to accommodate me, I need to leave because this greater good that we're all claiming has to be masked. What about disabilities? What about serving people? What about the caretakers who have not shown up right now to work, because all of a sudden, this greater good, but we can't lose the fact that we've still got to do good. We have to protect people with disabilities right now, because now we have these rules and guidelines to follow, that doesn't mean that all of a sudden we stop following ADA. The ADA has to protect people who are deaf and disabilities, and it doesn't mean that all these new guidelines change every day, every day, and we have to trust and understand that statistics are not the same. No one is reporting these numbers right. I really ‑‑ no one is reporting the same right now. So you have to understand that right now we have to find a common middle ground. The fact that I no longer have rights, I no longer understand because all of a sudden this new guideline of the day that someone has, that takes precedence over the ADA of 30 years I've worked for me to have equal access? So which is it? You have to find a common ground. So finally of course, I went to the manager who gladly pulled down the mask from a distance to explain the rule for me. So I had to go get higher authority, and she's claiming, no, I refuse to pull down my mask, because I have the right ‑‑ I'm like, excuse me, like if you have the right, but I have this right, who really has a right? We don't know right now. And so of course I go and get the manager, and explain the situation. He is so sorry. He pulls down the mask from far away and explains to me. He's so gracious. And so of course she gets in trouble, because she is hurting someone with a disability, and refusing to accommodate. So then at that point she decides, oh, I can be inventive now that I've gotten in trouble and I'm going to write down what I was trying to explain. So now after the fact, after the fact she made this embarrassment for me in front of fifteen people in that gym, none who were wearing masks, but you refuse to pull down your mask from a distance for me to understand. So here is a solution. You need to get the clear mask because that is not fair to expect me to follow some type of new rule every day that changes, so you need to find masks that are clear. Or you need to write it down. Or you need to caption it, interpret it. You need to find a solution. We claim to be the most inclusive community right now, generation community right now, we increasingly understand the sufferings of people. Hey, the disability community has been suffering and only has had rights for 30 years, so we have to get the clear masks. They're becoming more available. You can go online on Etsy. You can go online and you can buy clear masks right now. You can write things down. You can type on your phone. You can ‑‑ from a distance, you can pull it down and try to have a conversation. I have no idea what's happening. My quality of life has changed in a way that I've been fighting for my equal access for communication my entire life. And all of a sudden that's all been taken from me. So ‑‑ and I'm just watching the disability community that has to have caretakers every day, that have to have living situations at home, they're all being neglected and abused right now, because we all of a sudden have the right to be every man for themselves, which means they're being left in these group homes and being ignored. They're being left and left in their own filth and left in clothes that have not been changed, have not been fed. So be aware that after this is all over, that we're going to have many, many stories of people being neglected and left and their rights being stolen. So be aware of what you are fighting for, but still you have to fight for people that don't have a voice right now and that can't represent themselves. It's been the most tragic, awful thing in our world right now. But don't forget the deaf community. Yes, because we are being left and neglected and abused right now, and I'm seeing and I'm hearing so many stories, and people are taking advantage of what is happening. They're using this as an excuse to not get in the game, so get in the game. So, yes, and I would say one of the biggest answers is that we have to change ourselves first. And pray first. But we need the clear masks. We need you to be patient. I need you to not talk over me to a hearing person, because it's not helping me at all. It's taking away my rights and taking away the rights of people with disabilities. And so we have got to change something right now. It has been a terrible time for everyone. I probably can make a very strong argument that this is the worst and the most awful time if you have a disability and you can't access to get your groceries, you can't access to go anywhere in the world right now. So I can make an argument it's worse for people with disabilities right now.

Posted by Emma Faye Rudkin on Wednesday, July 8, 2020

“They kept changing the the rules,” Rudkin said. “So, I don’t understand what’s happening. It’s not on the website.”

She asks businesses to update their signage daily if there’s been a change.

“Please, try to explain to me what’s happening,” Rudkin said.

Rudkin is now using her own experiences to draw attention to the violation of the American with Disabilities Act or ADA that some businesses and hearing people may unknowingly be committing.

“Literally, it feels like our independence (for deaf or hard of hearing people) has been shipped away from us,” Rudkin said. “Fear, if that motivates us, we lose compassion.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, during the response to any medical disaster setting, including COVID-19, civil rights remain in effect and cannot be waived. To provide effective communication when briefly interacting with deaf or hard of hearing people, the Department of Justice asks people to be willing to exchange notes. According to the ADA’s website, more complicated interactive communications, such as a medical visit, it may be necessary to provide a qualified sign language interpreter.

“We have got to get in the game of not letting this tragedy, the brokenness in our world and the pandemic all the sudden freeze us, and give us the excuse that we don’t need to keep fighting for disabilities,” Rudkin said in her Facebook video.

The #ClearToBeClear movement encourages businesses and hearing persons to purchase a clear masks or clear face shields, write down rules of a business and any updates, caption or interpret virtual information, including on platforms like Instagram or Facebook, and to not refuse service to deaf or hard of hearing people as this directly violates the ADA. Guidelines that follow those released by the Center for Disease and Control on July 14, 2020. Those guidelines can be read here.

The #ClearToBeClear movement educates businesses and hearing persons on how to support those with hearing disabilities. The guidelines follow those released by the Center for Disease and Control on July 14, 2020. (Aid the Silent)

Rudkin said clear face masks or shields allow for the deaf and hard of hearing people to read lips and facial expressions that in turn adds meaning and context to the information received. It’s a point that she will be sharing this week with Governor Abbott’s Committee for People with Disabilities as an appointed member.

“Children that have hearing loss and depend upon non-verbal (communication) (and facial expressions) are really going to suffer.,” Rudkin said. “Most of the sign language is happening on the face.” Rudkin also plans to submit a request for accommodations to be granted for people with disabilities in public spaces, such as grocery stores.

For the ADA’s requirements for effective communication, click here.

For more on Aid the Silent’s mission to advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing community, click here.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.