A woman from Encino, Calif., went viral this week after posting a video on TikTok claiming that she was denied service from Dunkin’ Donuts because she was deaf.
Shannon Heroux, mom of a 2-year-old son, gave an emotional description of what happened when she went in the store that day and was met with staffers who were less than accommodating.
"I've never been refused service before. It hurts," Heroux said in the video, adding that while she usually wears a cochlear implant to help her hear better, she was not wearing it at the time so instead had to rely on lip reading.
She goes on to explain that the employee at the counter allegedly refused to take her mask off so Heroux could read her lips — and that a manager would not pull his mask down or write on a notepad to meet her needs— despite repeated efforts at telling them she was deaf and required extra assistance.
And, according to Heroux, she and the unhelpful manager were separated by Plexiglass and were six feet apart during the exchange.
“I could just tell by his body language and his face he was going off," she says in the video, adding that, because she speaks so clearly, "I could tell he didn't believe I'm deaf."
Since the video went viral, Heroux tells Yahoo Life that Dunkin’ Donuts has since reached out and has been “very apologetic” as people there work on getting the “situation handled.”
She’s also heard from the franchise owner, who offered to “meet and discuss what happened.”
“We take matters like this very seriously,” a Dunkin’ Donuts representative tells Yahoo Life. “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.”
Still, Heroux, who lost her hearing at 4 years old, says she decided to share her story with the world not because of her personal hurt, but to shine a light on the approximately 11.5 million Americans living with hearing loss who are dealing with similar challenges.
“It's very important the world understands that not every deaf person is equal,” she adds. “By that I mean, there's different stages and different circumstances. Those with cochlear implants or hearing aids have a much higher advantage than the deaf people who don't wear a hearing device or only depend on sign language. It's important that the stigma surrounding the deaf community be corrected. I am a deaf person, who has great speech, can hear and communicate very well, and also an incredible lip reader. You'd never know I was deaf unless I tell you. If there were no masks today, I could still operate this world deaf because the advantage of lipreading would be there and no one would be the wiser.”
The experience at Dunkin’ Donuts, Heroux says, was the final straw after nearly a year of battling similarly targeted incidents including from “rude” managers at restaurants, stores and other outlets. These are the kind of incidents she says people who are hard of hearing face every day — something she hopes more companies can address moving forward.
“I believe that Dunkin’ Donuts and every single big chain establishment needs to incorporate some training on how to properly handle situations where communication through masks is impossible,” she explains. “What happened to me was not properly handled and that needs to be corrected. Speech and sound doesn't travel through the masks effectively. The masks aren't going away anytime soon so extra measures should be taken for healthy and effective communication.”
According to the CDC, those interacting with people who rely on reading lips should consider wearing a clear mask or a cloth mask with a clear panel. If you are not able to get a clear mask, the agency advises you to consider using “written communication, closed captioning, or decreasing background noise to make communication possible while wearing a mask that blocks lips.”
“My message to the world is don't assume we can hear you,” she says. “It's not easy being a deaf person who can hear with a cochlear implant, but much harder for those who are deaf and don't even speak.”
“To my fellow deaf warriors, stand up for yourself,” she states. “Don't always depend on someone else to do it for you. You are your own advocate, and I know it's scary in a world without sound. That piece gets taken from us when we are inserted to communicate with a hearing society with an added disadvantage."
“When I got the cochlear implant at 15, it changed my life," she adds. "It opened doors that I never thought were possible. I was able to speak on the phone, speak better, hear the whistle playing sports, understand people without looking at them, the list goes on. Even with all that, one thing remained the same: I was never going to hear again. I was never going to have biological sound back in my life. I was always going to sit in true silence without a hearing device. I accepted myself.”
“I enjoy being deaf. I enjoy having the best of both worlds. I promised myself to always be my best and that my deafness will not hold me back. Don't let it hold you back. Don't let it change you, but for the better. This is not something we asked for, but were born with. Everyone has their problems, but you are no different. Stand your ground. Speak up."