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NCHN: COVID-19 accentuates barriers for the deaf and hard of hearing

covid 19 deaf comm

In the midst of a public health crisis, various communities are being heavily impacted and the necessity to provide vital information for everyone as society consistently changes due to COVID-19, is important. 

But that lifesaving information can be lost in translation or limited for those within the deaf community. In a state that has almost 15 percent of people with hearing loss, it is important to provide accessible information for those who are too often left out.

From North Carolina Health News:

Deaf people, those with some hearing loss, which typically happens later in life, and people who have hearing and vision loss.

Each group has distinct communication needs.

Some people with hearing loss rely on lip-reading, and with the proliferation of masks, their ability to understand and follow conversations may be affected. People who are deaf from birth may have a more limited vocabulary.

But all groups need to know and understand health information surrounding the outbreak. In a crisis where information on handwashing and social distancing is the main line of defense, that outreach takes on a new urgency.

“The challenge in the deaf community is with their access to information,” she said in a Zoom interview through an American Sign Language interpreter. “It might be limited. It’s already bad enough with trying to make sure that everybody gets all the right information because there’s so much misinformation put out there.”

North Carolina officials have taken several steps, from having a sign language interpreter at every briefing to working with television stations to include captions with each update. But Withers said, captions aren’t always accurate, and their quality can sometimes vary.

Currently, the National Association of the Deaf is working on bringing sign language interpreters to state governor press conferences across all 50 states

Yet, the White House has not included an interpreter for its coronavirus briefings — a concern that has been raised by the National Council on Disability last month, but has not been addressed. 

As we continue to tread through challenging times, we must not forget communities that are easily overlooked. Governments and hospitals across the country need to be reminded of the best ways to maintain full communication with those who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

Coronavirus is a public health threat to all Americans, and everyone needs to be informed about safety measures, economic changes, and healthcare information in the coming days. 

Listed below are coronavirus resources and information for the deaf and people with hearing loss

Alanna Joyner