The Hidden Ways COVID-19 Impacts the Deaf Community
It’s not inaccurate to say that the pandemic has been hard for most people. Between the strain on our healthcare systems, financial hardship, and the stress of the virus itself, we’re all exhausted. As reported by The Society for Human Resource Management, as of February 2021, 70% of people in the global workforce said 2020 was the most stressful year of their lives.
Even in regions where restrictions are easing off, Healthline reports that post-pandemic exhaustion is increasingly common.
And all this is among the hearing. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals have had to contend with a bevy of hardships atop the pandemic’s other challenges. And unfortunately, these struggles aren’t always evident to those outside the Deaf community.
Barriers to Access
Families with communication difficulties are in an especially hard spot right now, amidst quarantines, school outbreaks, social gathering limits, and distance learning. Particularly for parents of especially young children with congenital hearing loss, this poses a substantial risk of developmental delays. What’s more, many parents with hard of hearing children relied heavily on medical support networks that have now been thoroughly disrupted, including:
- Cochlear implant surgery
- Audiology exams
- Hearing consultations
- Assistance from communication aides
- Hearing aid fitting/configuration
- Auditory-verbal therapy sessions
Because knowledge of sign language is not particularly widespread, many Deaf individuals relied on lip-reading prior to the pandemic. Unfortunately, mask mandates coupled with social distancing have functionally made this impossible — and though some companies do manufacture specialized, transparent masks with the hearing impaired in mind, it will not occur to most people to wear one.
These difficulties are only further amplified amongst hearing impaired children and adolescents, who may find it jarring to be so suddenly cut off from friends, peers, and other Deaf individuals. In many cases, they may no longer have the means to express frustrations or cope with challenging experiences.
Unsurprisingly given the above, deaf and hearing impaired individuals are at a higher risk of developing anxiety or depression during the pandemic, per a research paper published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Loss of Cultural Identity
Deaf communities tend to be incredibly active and social, with frequent gatherings. Physically experiencing the support of other people who genuinely understand one’s perspective helps forge incredibly strong social bonds — something which, during the pandemic, is not possible. Because of quarantine, most events and activities in the Deaf community were forced to either relocate online or cancel entirely.
For many, it was like the floor was pulled out from under them.
It’s clear that COVID-19 has had a clear negative impact on people’s mental health all across the world. It’s also clear that, amongst individuals with complex communication needs, this effect was only amplified. But what can we do to address this?
Aside from staying in touch online, all that’s left is to follow health orders, be responsible, and hope things eventually return to normalcy so that we can all go back to truly living our lives.