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A Deaf Perspective During the Pandemic
Covid-19 has brought a huge and - for many - unprecedented change into many our our lives. Fear to go out, creating social distance between members of our own families and households, and working and schooling from home.
Talking to a number of friends and colleagues, it seems this is certainly taking its toll on work-life balance, family relationships and the ability to keep a structure - is anyone else waking up and having to check their phone to see not only what time it is but also what day?
As a Deaf person, it’s been really interesting to see the changes this has brought, for the better and worse. First and foremost I have a renewed respect for all the stay-at-home mums, most of all my own wife! With three children, this place is like a zoo more than a house. I’m glad I can turn my hearing aids off and shut my eyes for two mins at times - don’t tell my wife though!
Many people are reporting a sense of isolation and feeling cut off - a feeling a Deaf person knows all too well. Recently, Deaf people have had to fight for access even to the daily PM briefings on the BBC and Sky. This is a struggle we face everyday - lack of information and ‘missing out’ - but it becomes acutely concerning when these messages bring daily and fundamental changes to our lives. Thankfully the plea for access was heard and now the BBC and Sky are including live BSL interpreting on these briefings.
It’s strange though that with the new isolation comes another form of interaction that has posed challenges for Deaf people: video conferencing. To fight the feeling of being cut off, many are reaching out through these platforms like Teams, Google Meet, Zoom and Skype to give themselves that feeling of connection, rather than the standard IM or text message on WhatsApp or Teams. This has caused many Deaf professionals - myself included - to have a heightened reliance on having a BSL interpreter on standby. Our interpreters are having to learn a whole new domain of interpreting and how to be ever-present for their clients throughout the day and sometimes in the after-hours when we need to check in with family and loved ones and video conferencing is the preferred platform now. People have to prepared to be camera-ready at all times and be recorded like never before. Amazon’s purchases of green screens has gone through the room I expect as everyone converts their apartments into video-conferencing studios.
With 1 in every 2.5 Deaf persons struggling with a mental health problem (https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Mental-Health-Taskforce-FYFV-final.pdf) it is more important than ever that Deaf people navigate this new landscape and ensure they are preserving their mental health through positive and constructive interactions and maintain their balance in this trying time. According to British Deaf News, D/deaf people are twice as likely to suffer from depression as hearing people, and sadly the Deaf health charity SignHealth reports that D/deaf people experience poorer overall health than hearing people, largely due to poorer access to services and information.
- Deaf4Deaf (www.Deaf4Deaf.com) is a fantastic provision of Deaf mental health care workers who can provide support through the NHS or privately. They specialise in providing remote support, so it’s perfect for these times.
- SignHealth (www.signhealth.org.uk) is another organisation that supports people with mental health concerns and provides BSL accessible information on the coronavirus and how to stay safe.
- Many freelance interpreters are stepping up and providing a new line of support through volunteer remote-interpreting for NHS appointments, phone calls and other emergency situations: https://m.facebook.com/groups/910360656088095?group_view_referrer=profile_browser
- There are many other Facebook groups to join that can give Deaf people an opportunity to socialise and just ‘shoot the BSL breeze’ or for those who want to learn BSL to interact with Deaf people in a real-life context.
- If any Deaf people have concerns about their benefits or other financial support at this time, visit our online community to speak to an adviser and a knowledgeable community.
The main takeaway from all this for me has never to allow anything to come between me and my loved ones - whether that’s a disability, language barrier, technological barrier or physical distance. If we all pull together at this time, we will come out the other end: changed, but stronger.