COVID-19 worsens communication problems for the hearing impaired

Researchers at Gangnam University in Korea published a study on the difficulties experienced by the disabled, especially the hearing impaired, in the domestic journal .

The researchers distinguished complete deafness and hearing vulnerability. Just as all people who have no difficulty listening do not speak the same language, people with hearing impairments can be also divided into hearing impaired people who use sign language as the first language and those who do not. It is a big difference that can separate life from death in a disaster situation where it is competing for time. This study showed the difference through cases where subtitle broadcasting and text services were provided in emergency disaster broadcasts announcing a large-scale forest fire incident in Gangwon-do in April 2019, but sign language interpretation was not provided. Similar to being able to read, write, and hear foreign languages, it is difficult to communicate properly in urgent situations, which means that deaf people can also have difficulty decoding the language of listeners in urgent situations. Similar problems were repeated in the early stages of the COVID-19 epidemic. Sign language interpreters could participate in briefing on the COVID-19 epidemic only after various efforts had been made by the deaf groups and after emergency statements from the National Human Rights Commission.

It is progress that sign language interpretation is being provided at government briefings. However, because the COVID-19 epidemic is still ongoing, it is difficult for the deaf to navigate a new environment solely only on the information provided by the COVID-19 disaster broadcast. The COVID-19 epidemic has altered many facets of society, and deaf people have been forced to confront challenges everywhere. To uncover these issues, the researchers interviewed and evaluated five deaf persons in sign language. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the hearing challenged encountered three significant challenges in their daily lives, all of which were related to communication disconnection and difficulties.

The first issue arose as a result of communication between the deaf and the hearing person that did not include sign language interpretation. Deaf people have traditionally communicated with hearing people who do not understand sign language by simply looking at the shape of the other person’s mouth. However, because people wear masks every day, such communication has become impossible. The failure to communicate occurred not only in everyday situations, such as going shopping, but also in government offices. Transparent masks were used to partially solve this problem at times, but they were also limited in looking at the shape of the mouth due to steam, expensive compared to regular masks, and not suitable for daily use due to concerns that they might not function properly. Some people used a Speech-to-Text smartphone app because they couldn’t communicate with their mouth shape, but even that couldn’t be used properly because a screen was installed to prevent the spread of infection. Indeed, the situations done face-to-face were fraught with difficulties. Because public services related to COVID-19 have been switched to non-face-to-face and only by phone, deaf people had to ask their hearings to do even what they could have done on their own.

Without sign language interpretation, the various difficulties that arise do not disappear just because sign language interpretation is provided. As the government provided sign language interpretation at the COVID-19 briefing, there was a limit to providing sufficient information because the quality of sign language interpretation provided was uneven and the sign language interpretation screen was sent small to the corner of the entire screen. In addition, the existing sign language interpretation service has decreased. The sign language interpretation center was unable to provide sign language interpretation in time due to heavy workload. In the urgent medical field, the problem of non-face-to-face sign language interpretation has become more prominent. At the screening clinic, not only sign language interpretation but also text interpretation was not available. Large hospitals separately hired personnel to interpret various languages to receive foreign patients, but did not invest as much for sign language interpretation.

Social distancing is also making deaf people difficult in a different way than hearing person. Visual information is very important in sign language conversations, so deaf people must continue to focus on the screen when using video calls or online conference programs. For this reason, deaf people say that it was difficult to communicate with other deaf people. This led to the inability to access the “information of the hearing impaired” produced by reprocessing existing information while blocking opportunities to share the suffering of living as hearing impaired and support each other. The situation in which sign language performances or art events related to the disabled are canceled or replaced online also intensified the stress experienced by the hearing impaired in the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The researchers said that language connects people and society, and disasters are the product of social processes. They stressed that it is time for all society to strive to protect their language for those who have been forced to remain silent in the era of crisis and disaster.

Reference Article:
Jeongran, kwak, Sang, L. K., Hwan, C. J., Woo, L. J., & Hui, C. C. (1970, January 1). Experiences of deaf people in the covid-19 situation. Journal of Disability and Welfare. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from

Categories: Journals, Society