The National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing is concerned that people with hearing loss are being discriminated against and having their needs overlooked in the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The organisation has teamed up with Deaf Aotearoa to urgently lobby government, ministers and the Ministry of Health to ensure inclusion of the deaf and hard of hearing communities in its approach to Covid-19.

National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NFDHH) chief executive Natasha Gallardo said the communities were overlooked in the first lockdown and nothing had changed.

"We are still here asking to be listened to. It is really disappointing," she said.

NFDHH and Deaf Aotearoa have sent letters to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and senior ministers Carmel Sepuloni and Kris Faafoi, outlining their concern.

Gallardo acknowledged the government's recommendation to use face masks was imperative to help stop the spread of the virus, but she believed it presented a major communication barrier for the people who relied on lip reading for communication.

"As well as this, the outside of prime-time news bulletins are not required to have closed captions, so they fail to meet the needs of the deaf," she said.

NFDHH were warning that the repercussions could include:

  • A reluctance for those who are deaf to get tested, as they may not understand conversations or instructions
  • The potential for that audience to miss important information in news conferences
  • Feeling isolation and marginalising that could impact on their mental health

Gallardo said NFDHH was calling on the government for closed captions for all Covid-19 briefing sessions on media-run platforms, New Zealand Sign Language interpreters at testing stations, and captions in places where public service announcements were played.

"Social distancing makes hearing harder, even without wearing masks," she said.

"Many of the hard of hearing community are becoming more anxious when confronted by someone wearing a mask, watching news reports and not knowing what is happening."

More needed to be done to include them in mainstream communications and services during the pandemic, Gallardo said.


By Riley Kennedy

Originally published: RNZ, 17 August 2020, 2:05am