Clarion: Barriers During The Pandemic
Presently, the world is a bit crazy since the COVID-19 outbreak. The future feels uncertain and many lives around the whole world are affected and have changed dramatically. For most Deaf people, the situation has caused a lot of frustration, especially in terms of communication. The feeling of isolation usually comes part in parcel with a disability, especially a sensory loss, so this is a familiar situation for Deaf people.
Opaque masks are making lipreading impossible
Since masks have now become compulsory in public services such as shops, restaurants, and banks, this has completely thrown Deaf lipreaders like me. I realised how much I relied on lipreading once I attempted to communicate with a masked person. Most people wear opaque material masks, which completely cover their mouths, making it impossible for people to lipread and understand them. I am lucky that I have had a fairly good experience with this. I simply ask people to lower their masks and explain that I am reliant on lipreading. Possibly 99% of people have been very accommodating.
To attempt to overcome this barrier, I have noticed different companies and charities have decided to make and sell transparent masks, with a little plastic window. This is fantastic and a massive inclusive step forward. Sadly, not everyone is aware of these creations. Many Deaf advocates like myself try and raise awareness of transparent masks, and encourage large supermarket chains, to consider introducing these masks to their staff.
Where is the Interpreter?
Another issue that is a huge topic in the Deaf community, is the lack of access for the Prime Minister’s national COVID-19 addresses. More than 80,000 Deaf people communicate in British Sign Language as their first language. The structure of the English language and BSL is completely different. Therefore, it is extremely vital, that all information is translated to BSL. Times are worrying and it is vital that everyone is aware of any restrictions and measures that are put into place. I was impressed with the access that was provided in New Zealand, which had an interpreter present during Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s briefings. Currently, there is a campaign which is spear headed by Lynn Stewart-Taylor, who has worked tirelessly campaigning for equal access for Deaf people. This goes by the name of ‘Where is the Interpreter?’ and is trending on Twitter #WhereIsTheInterpreter.
Since March, there is an interpreter available on BBC News channel and BBC iPlayer, which is positive news, but the access is not equal. In my opinion, Boris Johnson should take a leaf out of Stewart-Taylor’s book, and ensure that there is live interpretation during his national briefings, which will be shown on mainstream channels. Although, the responses received were ‘time restrictions’ in terms of carrying out a DBS in a short amount of time. Also, due to lack of space and unable to interpret 2 metres from Johnson. This massively discriminates the Deaf community, who are unable to access this vital information! The interpretation was arranged by BBC. The Government have sadly failed Deaf people during the pandemic, in terms of inclusion communication.
Limited face-to-face interactions
During the pandemic, I have limited the number of people that I interact with face-to-face. Most people I contact, are via video call, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and WhatsApp. We are lucky to have this technology to help stay connected with loved ones who live far away from us. Despite feeling positive about this technological development, I do often struggle communicating via video call. Sometimes it is difficult to lipread the other person, due to the camera freezing. Speech can often be delayed too, so the audio is not in sync with the video, which is super confusing! I often participated in group chats with hearing friends and Deaf friends, and always felt quite isolated and relied on my hearing partner to sit beside me and relay the conversation so I could keep up to speed!
“Overall, I have mixed feelings about the communication barriers. A part of me feels defeated and isolated because of the technical frustrations I have faced. On the other hand, I feel that my confidence has soared!”
I was extremely anxious about going out in public and coming face to face with mask individuals. It was an alien environment to me. Now I am very open about my deafness and politely ask people to lower their masks and say “Sorry, I am deaf and rely on lipreading!”. I often worry about receiving a refusal response, but people have been positive!
A reminder to you all, please be patient and understanding with us Deaf lipreaders. It is incredibly frustrating! I will explore some different options of ways to tackle and overcome this barrier in a future blog! So, stay tuned!