"I ask for people to show compassion and understanding for those that are in my position, no matter their disability. It is not fair, it is not right and the situation needs to be rectified."
A Los Angeles woman's heartbreaking video about the lack of understanding and inclusion she encountered at a local Dunkin' Donuts is going viral on social media. In an emotional video posted to TikTok earlier this month, 32-year-old Shannon Heroux said she was refused service at the establishement because she is deaf. "I was confused. I couldn't hear anything. I wear a cochlear implant, but I was not wearing it at that time. I've never been refused service before, and it hurts. It hurts really bad," she said through tears in the video. Heroux explained that although she told a Dunkin' Donuts employee that she was deaf and asked them to pull down their mask temporarily so she could read their lips, they refused.
Instead, the employee brought over the manager who also refused to refused to find another way to accommodate Heroux. "He refused to write anything down," the TikTok user said in the video. "He refused to pull his mask down. We're six feet apart. There's a plexiglass to the side. I'm wearing my mask. What more do you want from us? We struggle so much during this pandemic. Enough is enough. People don't believe I'm deaf, and I could sense and feel from him that he didn't believe me. He didn't believe I was deaf because I speak so well. It's a blessing and a curse."
Sharing the video to her Instagram profile, Heroux wrote: "After processing this incident, I now realize something needs to change. Someone needs to take a stand. I want to spread awareness on how hard this pandemic has been for deaf people. So much ignorance out there and that needs to be corrected. If someone tells you they're deaf, believe them. Most of us can lip read, and it's [ten times] quicker than writing everything down to communicate. I'm considered 'dangerously deaf' as I speak extremely well and when I wear my cochlear implant, I can communicate to the point my deafness is not detected."
For most Americans, masks have become an essential accessory during the pandemic. But for the country's deaf community, they present a unique challenge: Covering someone’s face means pieces of conversation get lost.https://t.co/FjzJS7qbt7— Tiney Ricciardi (@tineywristwatch) February 8, 2021
"I don't have to wear my cochlear implant. I stopped wearing it much during this pandemic because the constant struggle of trying to understand people through masks that refuse to accommodate has been emotionally and physically draining. I ask for people to show compassion and understanding for those that are in my position, no matter their disability. It is not fair, it is not right and the situation needs to be rectified. Please help share this unfortunate incident to help spread awareness to prevent more of this from happening," she added.
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.— Dunkin' (@dunkindonuts) September 16, 2021
Speaking to BuzzFeed, Heroux revealed that she lost her hearing at the age of four ue to a birth defect called Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct (EVA), which causes loss of hearing due to a malformation of the inner ear. She is "profoundly deaf," with 5% residual hearing in her left ear and 0% in her right, she explained. "The cochlear implant (CI) in my left ear helps me process sound better than hearing aids ever did. I hear close to 'normal.' It’s been life-changing. First, I had a processor that was over the ear. Then, after 12 years, they finally came out with an earless processor, and I felt I could hear even better with that one; it’s much more comfortable and practically invisible," Heroux shared.
She added that she has received a wave of support from the Deaf community since posting the video. "We are not trying to make people feel uncomfortable, but rather figure out the best solution to avoid conflict and establish effective communication for all parties involved in an engaging situation. I hope that those working for that franchise have a clear understanding that this type of discrimination is just not okay," Heroux stated. "It doesn't matter what type of disability you have. No one is going to understand everything about every disability, but the Deaf community has been pushed aside during this pandemic, and it's time for the public to be more educated and aware."
Dunkin’ Donuts' corporate office, the franchise owner, and the manager who refused Heroux service eventually apologized to her for what she had to go through. In a follow-up video, Heroux revealed that she met with the owner, and that they came up with some possible ways to prevent this from happening again. Clear masks, keeping a whiteboard handy, a laminated menu so deaf folks can circle their order, and sensitivity training, are some of the solutions they've agreed on. Dunkin' Donuts also announced that the franchise owner has "reached out to a local area advocate for the Deaf community to request additional guidance on how retailers can properly communicate with deaf and hard of hearing guests wearing face masks."
He has "taken proactive measures to retrain his restaurant team members on the correct procedures to offer deaf and hard of hearing guests paper and pen, or use a smartphone, whiteboard, etc. to communicate," the company explained. He has also "made clear face shields available to his employees to help provide a way to read lips when needed, to help avoid a similar incident in the future," it added.