Spare a thought for the deaf during pandemic

Learn sign language here at Sarawak Society for the Deaf to understand the culture of the deaf community.

KUCHING: Growing up with deaf sisters and playing the role of unofficial sign language interpreter is something Lorraine Mitchelle Jores has been nurtured with since small.

To her, learning sign language is necessary in bridging the communication gap with her twin sisters, especially in assisting them on errands such as opening up savings account or registration at the hospital.

Lorraine said the first thing that came to her mind when she first heard about Covid-19 was what would happen if deaf people were infected.

The 29-year-old said while protecting the deaf from the virus was necessary, the current situation had exposed the vulnerability of the deaf community in Sarawak to the virus, especially those living in rural areas.

“Most of the healthcare staff are not trained with sign language skills. They may not be able to serve these patients due to this,” she said when met at the Sarawak Society for the Deaf office here on Tuesday (Feb 16).

Lorraine, 29, has been involved in sign language since she was small.

Lack of sign language interpreters

Lorraine said the lack of medical facilities, huge discrepancy in healthcare manpower and the dearth of sign language skills among health professionals had deprived the deaf community of access to better healthcare service.

She said often, incidents would lead to miscommunication due to the lack of interpreters at government and private institutions.

One example, she said, was at hospitals. “The process of registering can be very daunting.”

“Imagine a deaf person going to the hospital alone without an interpreter. Don’t you think it would be difficult for him to communicate?

“Another thing is, we must bear in mind that not all deaf people can read and write,” she pointed out.

Lorraine said Covid-19 had pushed the need for greater communication strategies.

“The lack of sign language interpreters at these places often put the deaf at risk of falling prey to misinformation.

“If they are infected by the virus, they will have to be in quarantine and treatment centres. During this treatment period, only doctors and nurses are allowed to interact with them.

“Even in the media and broadcasting industry, there are very few sign language interpreters.”

Hurdle in getting Covid-19 information

For hearing people, getting information on the latest Covid-19 development was easy, she said, by just turning in to the radio or television.

Lorraine said although writing helped the deaf to communicate with a hearing person, however, the emotions to express their message were removed.

“The deaf community faces a lot of communication challenges, often leading to miscommunication. This means that the interaction between the deaf and hearing community has no significant impact.”

Lorraine said this was because of the limited resources to deliver Covid-19 information in Malaysian Sign Language or Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM) as well as cultural incompetency in dealing with the deaf.

“Like myself, when I’m doing interpreting work, a part of it is that I assist the deaf in the sense I have to explain to others who deaf people are, what their rights are.

“Of course, everyone can learn the language. But the question is, can they really understand the deaf people culture? Do they really understand them?

“I am the intermediary and middle person for the deaf. My role as interpreter is to bridge communication between the deaf and the hearing. 

“We don’t speak for them. We only interpret it.”