Inclusiveness Has Never Been More Important
As society has been thrown into chaos, deaf people have had a unique set of challenges to contend with during the pandemic.
Amongst the many challenges that Covid-19 has thrown at society, the deaf community is facing a unique set of obstacles to their daily lives. Whilst the UK population has been urged to work remotely where possible, three quarters of workers with hearing difficulties have revealed that they are less productive in their home environments due to the dependence on conferencing software. But home working is just one of many challenges that deaf people are facing. How can society support those who live with deafness throughout the pandemic?
The tech world is working quickly to improve accessibility for all. Where Instagram has been criticised for not providing captioning in videos, the likes of Google Meet are rapidly deploying live captioning features which can transcribe conversations in just a few seconds. Audio transcription is an important function for deaf people to rely on during the pandemic, both in the workplace and in education. For homeschooling or universities which provide live classes or lectures, having a transcribed copy of the lesson to work with afterwards is a really key part of study support. The ability to refer back to the written text is critical, and useful for those who can hear too.
The face mask has become the staple symbol of the pandemic, both as vital PPE support for brave healthcare workers as well as enabling the public to carry out their grocery shopping with protection. But face masks provide a huge barrier for deaf people who use lip-reading to understand what people are saying. This is even more pronounced for those with hearing challenges who end up in hospital and don’t have access to interpreters due to social distancing. Campaigners have called for the use of clear masks to be adopted as the norm. These have a transparent guard across the mouth area of the face, which allow deaf people to clearly see the lips of anyone, particularly medical staff, who are communicating with them. Clear masks would also suit hearing people, as many can benefit from the reassurance of seeing a friendly smile during the pandemic.
A community of 11 million deaf or hard of hearing people within the UK are excluded from receiving information given out by the government in their daily announcements. The problem is that the briefing isn’t translated into British Sign Language, which is the first language of approximately 151,000 Brits. A group of more than 150 deaf people are seeking damages from the government as part of a class action for not providing them with a BSL interpreter during the daily briefings. They believe that this is a breach of the Equality Act as they have been effectively excluded from receiving important information about schools, pubs and restaurants closures, and key safety guidance.
It is vital that deaf people are offered the same level of support as all other communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. The steps required to overcome many of these challenges can be surprisingly simple to implement so long as they’re made a priority.