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Evolving Challenges For The Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Community During a Pandemic

Arizona Edition

April 17, 2020 Part II 


KAWC's Lou Gum speaks to Executive Director Sherri Collins for the Arizona Commisssion for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing surrounding the recent developments with the COVID-19 Pandemic. 


• 0:00 - 1:00


Welcome back to Arizona Edition on KAWC, I’m Lou Gum. Think about your struggle to keep up with the news this past couple of months. Lots of official press conferences on television, breaking news stories announcing the latest virus numbers. Lots of talking heads sharing opinions live on radio and TV, now take a step back: What if you couldn't reliably get this information, not because it isn't available, just not to you. That's the challenge faced by many in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, inconsistent use of sign language interpreters makes it hard to follow a live press conference.


Imperfect speech recognition technology misses and changes words and closed captioning and lip readers will try doing that through a mask. To find out more about the challenges to get consistent and reliable information for members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing Community, I spoke with Sherri Collins executive director for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. Collins is trying to raise awareness about these challenges. We spoke by phone and if you're wondering how we managed to conduct a radio interview with a person with profound hearing loss, well keep listening.


• 1:00 - 1:30 Doing some research on this topic ahead of our conversation. I learned actually quite a bit and was obviously struck by the fact that radio isn't probably the friendliest media source for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. We do have a website and I've learned the importance of transcripts as a source of information, but I think as we learn more about the challenges of what we're calling The New Normal, we're identifying barriers in our systems of communication for different communities like yours so I felt it was really important to talk about. So again, I thank you for this opportunity.


• 1:33 - 2:10 Yes, thank you. And yeah, there's this little thing that people don't think about, you know, when it comes to these challenges and that there’s a barrier for our community and why we want to reach out to the public just don't forget about our community with the hearing loss and those who are deaf and hard of hearing including deafblind.


So if we can just begin really basically, how is it that we are speaking to you now, I know that were using a service that was new to me called VRS. Is this a fairly typical way that the deaf and hard-of-hearing Community might use the web or Internet to communicate?


• 2:13 - 3:01 Actually, I'm using my mobile phone. I have an iPhone and there is an app and with a provider, and you are correct, I am using video relay service VRS and the feature that I'm using called voice carry over which means that I have an interpreter on my phone and she’s interpreting everything that you're saying, and you're hearing me speaking because I have severe hearing loss even though I can speak for myself and I also can hear your voice connected to hearing aids but Bluetooth. Think about your phone conversation when you make a phone call on your cell phone. This is our regular mobile communication using telephone.


• 3:02 - 3:30 As I was researching I learned that there are some challenges in terms of receiving information in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. And I wonder if we could go through kind of what I learned a little bit and you can address each of them and then add to it at the end because I'm sure I'm going to miss something. But some people with hearing loss are lip readers and it strikes me that as everyone wears masks, that is obviously a challenge.


• 3:32 - 4:19 Oh, you know that is a major challenge and I'm concerned because of what I am reading about COVID-19 and if it’s not going away any time soon we may have to continue to wear our masks. I'm thinking oh my goodness, there are no clear mask and it's so hard to understand even if I can hear some, but I have to read people’s lips. Just like the other day I went to the grocery store, I wore my mask of course  and so did the cashier and I had no idea what they were saying and I certainly did not want to make her take her mask off because we were at the grocery store.


• 4:21 - 4:52 It is a big challenge wearing a mask because you don't want people to take them off but then you're going to need another source of communication either pointing at a picture or writing notes back and forth so we can understand each other.


So this points out something that maybe people don't understand is that deaf and hard-of-hearing people, are not all communicating with sign language, they're not all communicating in the exact same way.


• 4:53 - 5:53 Absolutely! For example you have different levels of hearing loss and you know, for me, I am profoundly deaf and so maybe you would think I could hear but I cannot. I’m profoundly deaf and I heavily rely on communicating in sign language and there are people that don't think they depend on sign language, but that’s their first native language and that's the primary communication. And then you have some people that don't know sign language who have severe hearing loss, and there is a billion degrees of hearing loss and communication so it's not like one-size-fits-all communication in our community.


What are the rules about how information is presented? For example, on television, there a lot of live broadcast now a lot of press conferences. Sometimes you'll see a sign language interpreter. Sometimes there's closed-captioning a bit but sometimes there's not.


• 6:05 - 6:20 That is correct and that is so important and this is something that we've been talking about educating the general public when you're using any type of media, it could be YouTube, online, television and not to use automated speech recognition. It is not accurate. There's a lot of errors and that is important information that we rely on. Can you imagine you know you as a hearing person listening to all distorted captioning and voice. You’d be confused with the information that you'll be hearing how the captain comes across. So that's one thing that a lot of captioning we are seeing is using automated speech recognition and it's not accurate yet and it is so important to have a real-time captioners actually do the captions and the captioning transcript need to be added to that because those that are deafblind can't read the captioning on the TV they need to read the words and the text.


And there are laws about the rules about that FCC rules that but they're different for live broadcast. So in a pandemic, it's much more challenging.


• 7:27 - 8:27 Yes, during the pandemic when it comes to press conference you will see many, not all, but most, especially the governor, he has an interpreter with his press conference in joint with the Department of Health and they have captioning. But what is happening, not in that particular press conference, but in other press conferences I’ve seen, when you upload a video on your website and it is not using captioning, it translates using automated speech recognition and that's something that people don't realize that is happening.


And also for the interpreters I wanted to emphasize is that when you can't have an interpreter in the studio in a TV station, for example, we really want your broadcast is considered adding a box on the screen and so they interpreter can join remotely and that is a challenge, but hopefully we will see more and  more of the broadcaster to be open-minded to consider adding captioning and a box because it’s really important for not just the captioning but also for the interpreters to be on the screen on any general information that is being discussed especially under covid-19.


I'm old enough to remember when that was fairly standard on TV. When I was a kid I remember seeing that a lot.


• 9:00 - 9:45 Yeah, you would think of you know, you would think that they would do that. Especially when we have all of this, you know, great advanced technology and the resources available and the interpreters are equipped and ready to work from home and to do all these kinds of services remotely. And they needs jobs too and they’re ready and we need access to information so hopefully we'll see that improve.


I know here in Yuma County at press conferences. I've seen from the city and county have provided an interpreter. I've also noticed that the White House Press Conference I see today don't have an interpreter.


• 9:47 - 10:22 That is correct. And there is a national movement from the deaf community pleading the White House to have an interpreter at all of the president’s press conferences and briefings and we have not seen any yet.


And, last question, I think what we're getting at is that when people can't communicate, you know we're talking a lot about how people are feeling isolated because we are isolated and they're struggling with that and uncertain but when people can't communicate that just adds to a stress.


• 10:22 - 11:21 You hit the nail on the head. We all have our stress level increased because you don't know all what's going on, especially at the beginning of when the news came out. With the stay at home and what does this mean, what it was covid-19 and how can you get it.


We have worked really hard through our office to make sure the public in our community that we’re providing accessible resources to them to understand your information. And on our website, we have a covid-19 update. We have guidelines for healthcare providers to understand how to provide services to those who are deaf and hard of hearing or deafblind. If they require telemedicine we have provided some guidelines to help to minimize frustration and the stress.


• 11:22 - 12:09 There are some resources solutions to provide healthcare services remotely, but the problem is that a lot of the health care providers are not prepared and not thinking about what do I do to provide them telemedicine. And I'm not talking about this with you right now, telemedicine is a different platform and so we try hard to reach out to the community to hopefully we can at least minimize the stress level and make sure they are receiving appropriate information.


We will happily provide links to others resources on our website along with a transcript of this conversation


Sherri Collins executive director for Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. Thank you so much for your time.


Facebook: Arizona Commission for The Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. 

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