We went into lockdown for the first time, and everything and everyone closed their doors. This was frightening for a lot of people but especially people who were also vulnerable, our Deaf Community.
Pre Covid-19 doors were open for Deaf people, and help and support were always needed, this was also challenging but it was not impossible. Then the doors closed, this became an instant barrier and that service was no longer accessible to the Deaf community.
Even their local Deaf Club closed their door. This is where they would all go and support each other in a face-to-face situation.
What did Deaf people do? Where could Deaf people go?
It’s easier to explain what they couldn’t do and where they couldn’t go to get basic support but it would be quicker to say what they actually did.
They called us because we were the only service that offer video calls for Deaf people in the South West. This means they can call us and talk to us using British Sign Language. We were able to signpost them to services that were available and easy to access. Most services for Deaf people were only available on a national level, not local. We were able to signpost them to online interpreter services which offered free video calls for all medical appointments during lockdown only.
Making an appointment to see their GPs, to go to their surgery and ask if they can also book a BSL interpreter was not possible.
Deaf people who did not have a PC or an iPad to get a better view of the interpreter only had a mobile phone. Broadbands were poor in some areas of Devon and also having to show Deaf people how to set up apps or accounts on their devices, online was time-consuming and a challenge itself.
To read and reply to PIP about their award, they had to phone to make an appointment for another assessment otherwise, their benefit would stop. We were able to explain to Deaf people what information they needed, to fill in their application form and what happened during a PIP assessment and in some cases, to be able to call on their behalf to book an appointment. Someone still had to fill in their application form, usually, a member of the family was able to do this but not always possible. Access to CAB who are experts on filling in the form was not possible.
To be able to let their bank knows of unexplained activities on their account straight away. They had to get a member of their family to make the phone call. It was not possible to see the bank clerk to show them unexplained transactions and ask if they can help make safe their account.
We have been able to link up with Deaf people on social media to get information that they needed in BSL. Information and news in BSL have always and only been readily available days after it is first broadcast and never at the same time as everyone else.
Advice for shopping and accessing information
To go shopping and lipread what security and staff are saying to them when entering the supermarkets. We were able to provide them with information on wearing a lanyard to say that they were Deaf and can only lipread or use BSL.
To watch the news and read subtitles that were live but very poorly produced as words were often out of the content or misspelt and correcting themselves all at the same time. Deaf people couldn’t read or make sense of any of it.
No BSL interpreter was available for Covid-19 updates on the main channel at all during the 2 years of the pandemic. Deaf people wanted to receive the news and information at the same time as everyone else. It was a global pandemic.
We also created a number of video clips to explain where they can go and get tested, how to book to get vaccinated and how to stay safe.
Then we all went online.
Some Deaf people do not have access to a computer, they only have their mobile phone.
We couldn’t change our insurance company because it would be too complicated, so we would miss out on saving money.
We couldn’t change our utility company because there are too many of them and wouldn’t be able to understand without someone explaining which company was cheaper or where to get a better deal.
We couldn’t see anyone to make a Will, you can do them online but the information was difficult to read without someone to explain which packages to go for.
Deaf people have been traumatised by information and communication deprivation which means all information and all communication not relayed into BSL are missed. Information we receive through learning, listening, thinking, processing and talking in an environment such as at home, in school and higher education, in employment, and in our local communities has not always been made clear or smooth for Deaf people every day of their lives because we can understand and learn better using BSL.