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Masks are keeping a deaf veteran who reads lips unemployed

“I can’t communicate to my bosses. I can’t communicate to the public. They’re asking me questions, I’m talking to them, and here I am trying to have a conversation."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Some people remain unemployed because they are in a high-risk category if they contract COVID-19, or at taking care of someone who is.

Some may be waiting to go back to their job before the pandemic.

Some, like Mike Ayersman, can’t find a job that suits their skills or was negatively impacted during the pandemic.

 “Every time I go out in public, it’s, ‘try to find a job.’ I can’t communicate with anybody,” Ayersman said.

Ayersman is a disabled veteran. He lost the majority of his hearing while serving overseas.

“I’m actually really, really deaf,” Ayersman said. “I was injured in Iraq and lost all of my hearing. So I have to read lips.”

Reading lips has always been a huge strength of Ayersman’s.

Before the pandemic, he worked at Dicks Sporting Goods and loved every day of his job.

“I was working on peoples’ fishing poles, showing them trips and tips, techniques and how to do things,” Ayersman said. “I love fishing.”

Once COVID-19 swept the nation, he was furloughed. On top of losing his job, he became disconnected from the world.

“When I hear people talking, it’s already muffled,” Ayersman said. “I put that with their lips and I can make it out. But when I can’t see their mouth, it’s like trying to talk to Charlie Brown’s teacher.”

Dicks offered Ayersman his job back, but he just couldn’t do it. He really couldn’t do any other job on the market that required employees and customers to wear masks.

“I can’t communicate to my bosses,” Ayersman said. “I can’t communicate to the public. They’re asking me questions, I’m talking to them, and here I am trying to have a conversation with somebody I can’t read their lips.”

Ayersman, like many Floridians, has had trouble getting his unemployment benefits.

He said after this tough year, his family’s lifestyle really had to change. He said they didn’t put a Christmas tree up this year because it’s too depressing to know presents can’t be under it.

At this point, Ayersman is just trying to get creative by attempting to be a freelance writer for a fishing column.