"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, while wiping away tears.
Shannon said she told a Dunkin' Donuts employee that she was deaf and asked the worker to temporarily pull down their mask so she could read their lips. The worker refused to pull their mask down or find another way to accommodate Shannon. The employee brought over the manager, but he did not help the situation.
"He refused to write anything down," she said. "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," she concluded in her TikTok.
BuzzFeed spoke to Shannon to get more information about the incident. Shannon said she lost her hearing at 4 years old due to a birth defect called Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct (EVA), a condition that causes loss of hearing due to a malformation of the inner ear. She said she is "profoundly deaf," with 5% residual hearing in her left ear and 0% in her right.
Since she posted the video, she's received a wave of support from the Deaf community, especially other CI wearers. "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."
Dunkin’ Donuts' corporate office, the franchise owner, and the manager who refused Shannon service did end up apologizing for her experience. In an updated video, she said that she met with the owner, and they came up with some possible ways to prevent this from happening again. The solutions they came up with are: clear masks, keeping a whiteboard handy, a laminated menu so deaf folks can circle their order, and sensitivity training.
Although Shannon initially suggested employees temporarily lower their masks, the solutions she and the manager came up with are much safer.
Dunkin' Donuts confirmed to BuzzFeed 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."
To learn more about the obstacles the Deaf community has faced during the pandemic, I also spoke to Houston-based audiologist and owner of Memorial Hearing, Dr. Elly Pourasef.
"Something that I have taught my employees is to try and never say no without at least trying to come up with a solution," Dr. Elly told BuzzFeed. "We deal with this a lot at my clinic, so we use masks that have clear shields that show our mouths."
"Many hard of hearing (HOH) and deaf individuals have worked very hard their entire lives to be able to read lips and speak in a manner where most people wouldn't even know they had severe hearing loss. So, sadly, in this instance, they may not be taken seriously, even though they should be. For the most part, the Deaf community feel empowered and have their own community as well; however, certain challenges can still present themselves, and that’s where we come in. I would advise being patient and compassionate — always put yourself in someone else’s shoes."
Shannon wants everyone to know that "not every deaf person is the same. Some sign, some speak, some wear a hearing device, some don’t wear one. Some are born deaf, some weren’t born deaf. So many different combinations just from that, right? That’s why it’s important that just because someone encounters a deaf individual who can hear great with their hearing device doesn’t mean that a deaf individual without a device is the same."
"My advice for service industry workers, since we are in an unnatural setting right now, is to please do your best accommodating those that need it. They aren’t asking for much; they just need that little extra help to get around a roadblock out of their control. Most of all, please believe when someone says they’re deaf. Just because we can hear with a device doesn’t change the fact that we ARE deaf."
You can follow Shannon on TikTok and Instagram for updates on her Dunkin' Donuts story. And you can follow Dr. Elly on TikTok and Instagram for information on ear health.