The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying time for almost every human being on the planet. However as we adapt to new ways of living, there are certain groups of the population that have faced extra challenges as a result.
The widespread use of masks, whilst essential in the effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, has presented new obstacles in communication for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. For those who rely on lip reading, masks have abruptly taken away the efficacy of this essential form of communication. Mass mask usage has also presented obstacles in communication for the hard-of-hearing, who rely on a combination of lip reading and sound, however cannot hear muffled voices through the fabric.
However, despite the issues presented, leaders in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community look at these obstacles as conquerable challenges, with organisations such as Deaf Unity supporting the move towards masks and offering some helpful solutions for the deaf and those in their lives. These include the use of FaceTime and Zoom for mask-less face-to-face communication wherever possible, staying in regular contact with your deaf friends and relatives whilst recognising they may be struggling with lower-than-normal levels of interaction, and where possible using clear masks or face shields.
And it’s not only the deaf community who are coming to terms with a new, harsher reality. Social distancing and an effort to avoid ‘touch’ has significantly impacted the quality of life for the blind and visually impaired
“People with blindness and visual impairment depend on closeness and touch,” explains Fred Neurohr from the Divishion of Ophthalmoly at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, “think sighted guides, feeling surfaces with their hands”
The development of the pandemic has also raised some significant mental health challenges for the visually impaired. A recent study conducted by the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) demonstrated the increased anxiety levels experience by the blind community as a result of the pandemic, with many of the 572 surveyed saying they feel concerned about new social distancing measures. The worries stem from not knowing how distanced they were from others, travelling on public transport without human contact, and a worry that asymptomatic carriers of the virus may come to close not understanding that they are visually impaired.
However Neurohr remains hopeful that, much like the hard-of-hearing community, there are ways that society can assist the blind as we learn more about the virus and work within ‘social bubbles’, practices that will ultimately lead to a better quality of life for the blind post-pandemic. “Now that we know more about COVID-19, it’s our job to link them to basic needs (groceries, healthcare, [work setups]), and use this time to plan to be more adaptive and better serve them better down the road.”