COVID-19: deafscotland – Equality and Integration through Communication for All

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Gratitude for the NHS runs through the DNA of Scots generally and specifically now when staff bravery, skills, knowledge, adaptability and intensive focus changes, improves and saves lives. 

For many of the one million Scots affected by deafness, appreciation is routine and regular because the NHS plays a crucial role in enabling us to hear and consequently be included in family conversations, social events, employed, included in community consultations and enable our voice to be heard every day as and when we have something to say.  However, deafness is a hidden disability and all too often too many people of all ages live isolated, excluded, and alienated lives. We lack confidence, and as well as underperforming in the economy, our creative talents are wasted. 

At the moment, every day we are told about the necessity of temporary and exceptional measures to deal with COVID-19.  So why don’t we flip it and make it a positive? People with a hearing loss must be allowed to capitalise on the current culture of changing practice by adapting and accessing technology and doing things differently.

Society’s consistent failure to deliver Inclusive Communication is an easy fix but what it entails needs to be better understood.   Quite rightly, the daily Scottish Government briefings have been applauded as real time updates on the Coronavirus health emergency to BSL users but they form 12,500 of the population.  That leaves over 900,000 still needing information through subtitling.  Yes, the BBC subtitling service is critical. But that does not help when you are in the supermarket and you can’t hear what the assistant is saying from behind the Perspex screen, or in the chemist when, quite rightly, the pharmacist is talking to you from behind a mask and two metres away. You have a hearing aid and lip read to supplement your hearing but of course the aid only works in a radius of a metre. The hearing loop picks up a muffled voice and you just don’t have a scooby.  Another sign of the communication problem, is trying to explain to people that you are not rude and unresponsive, it’s just you cannot hear.  A communication problem is everyone’s to solve.

The impact of exclusive communication is amplified just now as telephone helplines just don’t work. Imagine being phoned to ask if you need a food parcel but it sounds like people very far away in a noisy place.  You are reading about telephone helplines that offer support and counselling but you can’t get this support. Why? A lot of public bodies and help services have rules about third party involvement so you cannot even ask someone to help you as it’s not allowed.

It’s a question of different solutions, more awareness and training as well as the assistive technology and, of course, hearing aids that work and batteries that have not run out of power. They need replaced at least once a week.  

Of course, the picture is not all bad, especially for those who are employed as they are relishing their ability to use technology, can excel in the workplace on an equal footing and can “hear to work”.  But the real life issues are sufficiently problematic to know we can do better and Scotland needs to recover better from the COVID-19 emergency so that we are an Inclusive Communication society.

deafscotland has worked since 1927 to raise issues so we have a track record of knowing what works and what does not.  We have a simple checklist of what is needed and an experienced membership working across our Public, Private and Third Sector services.  

deafscotland has repeatedly argued that hearing is the gateway to rights and equality so being affected by deafness is not just a health issue but it’s a human rights one. When we are valuing family and friends even more, just give a thought to all the people you know for whom hearing and inclusion is a challenge and think about what you can do to help.  Solutions are readily available on deafscotland website so check us out as we want to help you help us.