How Covid has further isolated people with hearing and speech impairment

In an ableist world, the needs of the differently abled are catered to as afterthoughts, if at all, and in the middle of a raging pandemic, the problem has increased manifold.

People with hearing or speech disabilities rely on lip-reading, body language, gestures and facial expressions in order to communicate, but now, the fact that everyone is wearing masks during the Covid-19 pandemic has proved to be a major barrier, and has isolated an already marginalised segment of people even more.

It has made even completing daily chores a task. “The challenges (faced by the community) are majorly seen from the immediate environment and places of daily engagement such as grocery stores and hospitals where. For example, asking for bills becomes challenging for the person as they might require the shopkeeper to write the amount and show it to them,” says Anindita Roy, a disability social worker and movement therapy practitioner.

According to a report on challenges faced by women with disabilities during the pandemic, 75 out of 82 participants, and all participants who identified as deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing, faced access barriers with regard to information, physical spaces, communication, digital spaces, health services, food and other essentials, and remote/digital education among other things.

The report by Rising Flames, an NGO working for the recognition, protection and promotion of people with disabilities, and Sightsavers, an international organisation working in over 30 countries to eliminate avoidable blindness, says those reliant on lip reading found extensive and necessary use of masks barriers for them in independently accessing services.

“With mask, lip reading is difficult, buying of vegetables, food, talking in gestures in difficult. Communication is tough. Misunderstanding is very normal. It is the first time I have faced something like this…I can’t ask anybody or even understand what they are saying from under the mask,” the report quotes a 31-year-old hearing impaired woman  from Maharashtra.

On this Reddit thread too, people with speech and hearing problems could be seen sharing their struggles.

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