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Deaf Awareness Week 2020 - Being Deaf during Lockdown

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

CN: deaf awareness, coronavirus, masks, sign language, remote learning


This week is Deaf awareness week. Each day I will be posting about one topic relating to the Deaf community. This is post number 1!

Given the current lockdown, I thought it would be useful to explain some of the issues that Deaf and hard of hearing people are experiencing during the time of COVID-19. One of the main problems we are facing is that everyone is now – for necessary reasons – wearing masks. This is making it very difficult Deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate effectively with others.

Face masks have been suggested in an attempt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. However, for those of us who are Deaf or hard of hearing, this has increased difficulty in communicating. Not being able to see someone’s lips not only stops the ability to lipread, but as anyone who signs will know, a significant part is relying on lip patterning. As a result, communication has become a state of anxiety – leaving us deafies to hope that the person either has a notepad or knows some sign language.

Due to the lockdown, many people are remotely studying and working - or simply to catch up with friends and family! However, those of us who are Deaf or hard of hearing are posed with yet another challenge. Trying to find a platform where the signal is good enough to lipread/be able to see what someone is signing, or that offers live video captioning which is accurate enough to understand what is going on! That is without further issues that are created in the actual meeting, such as people stepping away from the video when talking, only using the audio, switching to audio if the video goes off, and people speaking over each other.

So what are some ways that can help make this more accessible? It takes a collective effort to truly be inclusive, but here are some starting points.

As a hearing person/an employer/lecturer:

- Investigate and provide reasonable accommodations in the home similar to the workplace/university. For example, allowing people to have access to key equipment; or providing accessible and assistive technologies, such as live captioning, recording material and screen readers during web conferencing and video calls.

- Ask your students/employees what they need – do they need an interpreter? Do they need captioning? Do they prefer phoning, emailing or video calls? Find out what works best for your Deaf or hard of hearing employee/student.

- Use a video platform that provides instant or live closed captioning, ensuring that meetings are set up ahead of time with this feature enabled – such as Skype, Zoom or Google Meet.

- Ensure that one person is speaking at a time – this makes it easier for anyone who is Deaf or hard of hearing to lipread, as well as for interpreters to translate any material.

- Assign a facilitator to ensure the meeting stays focused and on track.

- Send a written summary afterwards of any key points that were discussed, and any action points made.

As a Deaf or HoH employee/student:

- Make time to familiarise yourself with different platforms like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet - practise with family or friends to find which one works for you.

- If you are using communication support, many interpreters are still working remotely – but make sure you book in advance [link] where you can as due to the increasing demand, these services get booked up quickly.

- Have a back-up plan in case the connection stops working (e.g. if Zoom is causing issues, use Google Hangouts).

- There are many live transcribing options, however, they vary in accuracy and between devices – see which one works well for you; Transcribe Live [link] and Otter AI [link] are popular choices.

In the UK, British Sign Language (BSL) is the most common sign language. BSL has its own grammar and sentence structure and is not the signed equivalent of English. A common misconception is that signed language is universal and used by all Deaf people. Many Deaf people use a mixture of lipreading, writing down/phone apps, and (for those who know it) sign language.

Why not use this time inside to learn some sign language? To find out more about where to learn BSL follow this link [link].

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