1 May 2020

Covid-19 amplifies struggles of deaf and hard of hearing

3:11 pm on 1 May 2020

A Nelson woman who is hard of hearing says it is now more difficult to access essential services.

Deaf woman with cochlear implant using smartphone

Photo: 123rf

Anna said people who wore face masks at supermarkets and pharmacies meant she could no longer lip-read, and voices were muffled.

The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing said the community struggled with isolation and anxiety in normal times, and the Covid-19 crisis had amplified it.

Anna was asking for people at supermarkets and other essential services to be patient with those who needed instructions repeated, or who indicated they had a hearing loss.

"I have a hearing issue and when someone's wearing a mask I can't read their lips, and they sort of mumble behind it.

"I've had a few people get annoyed with me and I just have to say, 'I have a hearing problem and I can't see what you're saying'."

National Foundation chief executive Natasha Gallardo said while people understood why masks had to be worn, they were only part of a suite of challenges the hard-of-hearing community faced.

She said many who relied on one-on-one support had been alone without help or the ability to communicate properly during the lockdown.

"Those visits have stopped during the level 4 lockdown period, so there was limited contact, especially from family and friends who weren't allowed to visit and support their loved ones."

Gallardo said the social distancing rules had created further challenges for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

"When you're like this, you rely on close proximity to be able to hear someone."

She said comments from the community on social media revealed many had struggled, including when out walking and trying to communicate with members of the public from across the street.

Gallardo said there had also been instances of negative reactions to people taking their hearing dog to public areas.

"There was one instance when a woman took her (hearing) dog to the supermarket and there were some really negative comments made to this person about getting their dog out of the supermarket, but of course she couldn't hear, and it was a really unpleasant situation for her to be in."

Gallardo said another challenge many faced was being able to understand the daily government updates on televised services. She said captions were available at the briefings but not the On Demand services.

She said the association had been providing care packages during the Covid-19 crisis, which included communication cards, and batteries for hearing aids due to clinics around the country being shut.

"We've been organising care packages to send out to the community which include 'buddy cards' which people can take with them to the supermarket and to the pharmacy.

"These cards say 'I have a hearing loss and here's the best way to communicate with me', whether they use sign language or lip reading or by text message or by writing it down."

Gallardo said they were important visual cues for people to pull out and use in places like a supermarket or pharmacy.

She said the care packages also contained information for family and friends on how best to communicate with their loved ones, and how to consider how they might be feeling.

The association was also providing guidance on what to do if hearing aids broke down, or the usual supplier of batteries was unavailable.

"During alert level 4 we just started providing batteries through our website because it was increasingly difficult for people to get batteries and we've had a lot of orders through our website."

Gallardo said special arrangements had been made for many older people in the deaf community who did not have access to the internet, and who needed batteries for hearing aids.

"That problem we can fix but the issue of hearing aids breaking down, unfortunately they will need to contact their local clinic.

"A lot are doing tele-audiology or online audiology but that doesn't help the elderly, and certainly not if you have a hearing loss and your hearing aids aren't working so that is proving challenging."

For those wanting more information contact the the association here.

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