The pandemic brings additional hardship to the deaf in the state
September is Deaf Awareness Month and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is using the month, quite appropriately, to educate citizens on how they can better communicate. with the deaf while wearing masks.
This year, the focus is also on the issue as 2021 is the 70th anniversary of the first congress of the World Federation of the Deaf, which was held in September 1951.
During the pandemic, when many people wear masks most of the time, communication is more difficult for those who can hear well – and it is even more difficult for those who are deaf. When masks are worn, hearing impaired people lose the ability to read lips or discern emotions from facial cues.
According to the latest state statistics, there are 1.2 million people in North Carolina who are deaf or hard of hearing, and that number is expected to increase to 1.6 million by 2030. The 1.2 million includes people born completely deaf as well as those who suffer from a range of hearing losses and therefore need to use hearing aids or other hearing-related aids.
A Tuesday September 7 press release from NCDHHS states: “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted communications in the deaf community, exacerbating barriers to fair communication. With masks having to be worn to slow the spread of COVID-19 in many settings, especially in healthcare, it has become more difficult for the deaf and hard of hearing community to communicate using lip reading or hand reading. facial expressions when communicating via American Sign Language. “
State officials encourage “creative solutions” such as wearing transparent masks, learning sign language, learning to use text-to-speech applications and other modern technological aids.
Jan Withers, director of the Division of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at NCDHHS, said people with good hearing can help bridge the communication gap.
“Becoming an ally of the deaf community by learning how to communicate effectively with deaf people and learning more about the resources available helps promote accessibility and fairness of communication for the deaf community,” said Withers.
State officials want to practice what they preach. For example, they often use sign language interpreters and subtitles at press conferences, especially in emergencies. There are also other efforts by the state to ensure that people with hearing problems are just as prepared as everyone else for the emergency room.
People who are hard of hearing can also use a multitude of state resources. The Division of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services and its seven regional centers across North Carolina provide services such as “advocacy for access to communication, consultation, capacity building education, culture of deaf people and American Sign Language awareness ”.