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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 15 July, 2020

Face masks and social distancing mean it's harder for deaf community to communicate during Covid-19 crisis

The charity Chime is encouraging the deaf community to request sign language interpretation if they need it to attend Covid-19 tests.

File photo. The use of face masks make it impossible for someone hard of hearing to lipread.
File photo. The use of face masks make it impossible for someone hard of hearing to lipread.
Image: Chris Young/PA Images

SIMPLE TASKS ARE posing greater challenges to people who are deaf and hard of hearing during the Covid-19 crisis.

Grocery shopping, conversing with frontline workers and ringing a GP to make an appointment are all more difficult for members of this community right now, according to national charity Chime. 

Furthermore, the use of PPE such as face masks and plastic partitions coupled with two-metre social distancing are all making lipreading and conversation more challenging, if not impossible. 

Chime is concerned that due to an apparent low number of sign language interpreters being booked for Covid-19 tests, the number of deaf people being tested is lower than that of the wider population. 

CEO Mark Byrne said: “Covid-19 has presented many new challenges for healthcare workers. It has also been challenging for deaf and hard of hearing patients, especially those who rely on lipreading to assist with communication.

PPE face masks have been shown to reduce speech clarity and combined with the loss of lip reading and visual cues, they can make communication between healthcare staff and deaf and hard of hearing patients extremely difficult.

To support deaf Irish sign language users seeking information about Covid-19, the HSE is pointing people towards the Irish Remote Interpreting Service

The HSE has also published guidance – along with Chime and the Irish Deaf Society (IDS) – for what to do for those with hearing difficulties when attending a test for Covid-19.

This guidance says: “The Covid-19 tester will be wearing a face mask, so if you normally rely on lipreading to communicate, please be aware that this won’t be possible during the test. 

“You can ask your GP for the test to take place in your home if you feel that communication in the Covid test centre will be difficult for you.”

The HSE said that deaf sign language users can contact the sign language interpreting service to request interpretation for their Covid-19 test. 

It also provides further information about Covid-19 on the HSE website here

Chime CEO Byrne said that a number of guides have now been created and the hope is that these can support and enhance communication in healthcare settings.

Byrne added: “We are also encouraging any person with hearing loss who is feeling unwell to reach out for assistance. We are happy to assist anyone who is unable to phone their GP by contacting their doctor on their behalf to book an appointment.

In partnership with IDS and the HSE, Chime have outlined the steps in the Covid-19 testing process with additional helpful advice for people with hearing loss.

Chime can be contacted on 1800 256 257, email or text 087 922 1046.

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Sean Murray

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