Problems accessing COVID-19 information for the deaf

By John Lewis

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people struggle to access news updates about COVID-19 and government restrictions, according to a Shepparton deaf community advocate.

Indigenous deaf woman Jody Barney is an Aboriginal disability cultural trainer and assessor who is a First Nations adviser to the Disability Royal Commission. She also been an energetic advocate for the deaf community for decades.

More recently, Ms Barney has been helping provide hampers with basic food items, masks, sanitiser and information on COVID-19 support services to vulnerable Shepparton indigenous people with disabilities, including deafness.

She said news bulletins without deaf interpreters or captions were barriers to understanding for deaf people.

“Information provided in Auslan, with accessible videos and captions, and more access to interpreters would greatly help deaf people fully understand information about COVID-19.”

Ms Barney said deaf people could wait up to two months for an interpreter for a tele-health appointment.

She also said access to technology could be a problem for disadvantaged deaf people.

“There is limited support to help with communication. Some families don’t have iPads or computers — only mobile phones. That impacts on the accessibility of videos.”

Ms Barney said many Shepparton district deaf people relied on family or other deaf people to stay connected.

“Some are using social media like Facebook and Instagram to stay connected.

“But I have seen an increase of mental health-related needs in the last two months.

“All interpreting services during restrictions are online so many without access to systems like Zoom or Skype do not access interpreters, and do not attend appointments.

“I have yet to see a COVID-19 screening service provide online access to an interpreter for those who seek to be tested.”

She said face masks meant lack of facial expressions made understanding conversations more difficult for deaf people.

“Any good lip-reader would only get 30 per cent of the conversation without a mask.

“It is the facial expressions that assist in understanding the meaning and messages that people are trying to convey.”

Ms Barney said although deaf people were exempt from wearing face masks, this presented other problems.

“We are mindful of the backlash from the community, as people who don’t understand can think we are breaking the law.

“But it is also important that we do our bit to help stop the risk of COVID-19 as much as we can.”

Ms Barney listed several ways for deaf people to access information:

Deaf Victoria is an advocacy service that can help deaf and hard-of-hearing people access services if they feel discriminated against or feel they can’t get access to the right supports:

Expression Australia delivers NDIS supports as well as fee-for-service supports to the deaf and hard-of-hearing:

Deaf Australia has a wealth of knowledge on its website:

Ms Barney's own enterprise, Deaf Indigenous Community Consultancy, supports people in accessing necessary services in a culturally safe manner: