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The Impact of COVID-19 on the Deaf Community:
By: McKenna Sims
As COVID-19 has ravaged the world for the past year, many people have been greatly affected by the precautionary public health measures put in place. People’s traditional way of life has shifted significantly and face masks are just one of the new things incorporated into our daily routine. However, as the world continues to adapt to the restrictions put in place to protect communities from the deadly virus many have forgotten about the impact of this virus on the Deaf community. Communication is the most obvious challenge that comes to mind, but Deaf people have faced a myriad of other struggles as well. The top concern during this time is safety, but as society continues to acclimate to this socially-distanced virtual way of living, it is imperative that Deaf communities are included in the conversation.
The CDC and prominent health professionals have demonstrated that masks and facial coverings are one of the most effective ways to suppress the spread of the disease when individuals have to venture outside of their homes. For those who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions when carrying out conversations, masks make effective communication pretty much impossible. In these scenarios many hearing people may pull down their masks to aid in communication but this becomes a safety risk for a virus that is primarily spread through airborne droplets. (Murray, 2020)
Masks are not the only hindrance when it comes to communication. Nearly all workplaces and schools have shifted to virtual working and learning environments, utilizing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet. These online platforms are not designed optimally for use by Deaf individuals and many have found themselves now excluded from group settings on these platforms. (Adam, 2020)
Virtual platforms are not always set up in a way that allows Deaf individuals to see interpreters, as well as the rest of the group at the same time. Closed captioning is available in some of these platforms, but they are often inaccurate and require great effort to set up. (Adam, 2020) As hundreds of thousands of people work full-time jobs from home, Internet connections are flakier and weaker than ever before. This makes following along through lip-reading nearly impossible and even signing is obstructed by such connections. (Murray, 2020)
Beyond general communication with others, the Deaf community is greatly impacted by the availability and reliability of news. As we live through this unprecedented time, many are turning to the news and the CDC website for breaking news and the latest quarantine measures for their regions. However, for most in the Deaf community English is their second language and interpreting the information can be quite difficult. While there are resources available in ASL, many of these simply address the broad questions associated with COVID-19 and do not provide daily news updates. (Sorenson, 2020) Even amongst the videos provided in ASL, there is a lack of quality and informational value, making it challenging to sort through and determine which are the best resources.
The ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has burdened the Deaf community are innumerable, and only those associated with communication were addressed here. Social distancing, work availability, limitations in medical appointment accompaniment are just a few of the other obstacles faced. Many have claimed that practices we have adopted, such as mask wearing and usage of virtual platforms will be in place long-term. Given this, it is critical that society take a look at the ways in which these practices affect the Deaf community and work in collaboration to make improvements.
1. Murray, Rheana. (October 14, 2020). “Deaf people are being left out of the conversation during COVID-19 pandemic.” Today. NBC News. Retrieved February 14, 2020. https://www.today.com/health/deaf-people-are-left-out-conversation-during-covid-19-t193570
2. Adam, Robert. (September 22, 2020). “Sign languages and Deaf people during COVID-19: how you can help in the classroom.” World of Better Learning. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
3. Sorenson, Marisa. (March 24, 2020). “The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Deaf Community.” DOOR International. Retrieved February 14, 2020. https://doorinternational.org/the-impact-of-the-coronavirus-on-the-deaf-community
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