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How The Pandemic Continues to Impact the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

95bFM Radio Interview

August 24, 2021


Jemima Huston

Natasha Gallardo


You're listening to a 95 b FM podcast.

Jemima Huston


To begin this next piece, I first have a clip to play for you. I began by asking how the Government's approach to combat and COVID-19 is negatively impacting the Deaf and hard of hearing community in Aotearoa.

Natasha Gallardo


What we've seen is the limited use of captioning. We have been advocating strongly for that to be mandatory so the Covid-19 briefings and updates on On-demand platforms for example are not captioned which is incredibly important for the Deaf and hard of hearing community. Same with our breakfast programme in the morning, no captions are available there which means there's no news bulletin or any updates until the evening programme which is captioned. We've also seen the ah, with the Governments approach to the second lockdown around encouraging more New Zealanders to wear masks. This is obviously incredibly important, however, there has been no consideration or advice from the Government on how to consider those people that struggle to hear when people are wearing masks.

Jemima Huston


That was me almost a year ago today, speaking to Natasha Gallardo, the Chief Executive of the National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing about what she believed the Government could do to better support those with hearing loss and lockdown. As you've just heard, the Foundation was calling for closed captions to be put on the daily Covid-19 Government briefings and the morning news programmes, for clear masks to be implemented to assist with lip reading and for businesses to be encouraged to resource their staff with ways to better communicate with the hearing community while masks were being widely worn and perspex barriers were up around the tills at say supermarkets. A year later, Natasha says that none of these calls have been answered by the government. I spoke to Natasha today about how the Deaf and hard of hearing community is being impacted by the latest lockdown. We spoke about how anxieties around the Delta variant as well as general communication with healthcare workers might be impacting the community when it comes to going out and getting vaccinated during lockdown. We also spoke about how you can support and communicate better with those who struggle with hearing loss throughout this lockdown period.

Natasha Gallardo


I think level four this time round for the Deaf and hard of hearing community is impacting them pretty much the same that it's impacted them all the way through the pandemic. Even though the government has introduced more mandatory masks and essential services. In prior lockdowns, most people were wearing masks. So it's still a huge communication barrier for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing when going into supermarkets or medical centers, pharmacies, etc. In addition, these perspex walls that are put up as well. So it makes it really, really challenging. And what we've seen over the last 20 months or so, since a pandemic started is no real change or any real consideration for how the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are coping throughout this pandemic.

Jemima Huston


Could we just quickly run through what makes it so difficult for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing when it comes to wearing masks and having those plastic barriers in front of people? Could you just run through that for people that perhaps don't understand.

Natasha Gallardo


When a person has hearing loss or is Deaf, lip reading is an essential part of piecing together a conversation or even facial cues. So mask that doesn't have a clear pocket doesn't enable hard of hearing person to to be able to use that essential visual cue to understand what has been said. And on top of that a mask also muffles the sound, so then it's even harder to decipher what has been said. You put a perspex barrier on top of that, and also some social distancing, it's nearly impossible for someone with hearing loss to be able to hear and understand what is being said.

Jemima Huston


Fantastic. Thank you. Now we actually talked almost a year ago about whether there is enough support for the Deaf community during lockdown. And I know you mentioned in your first answer that there hasn't really been a lot of change over the last 20 or so months that the pandemic has been impacting the world. Could you speak a little bit about those changes you would have liked to have seen?

Natasha Gallardo


I think we would have expected to have seen at the very least an increase in captioning across digital platforms. We have the 1pm briefings or the early morning briefings on On-demand and they do not have captions. So we would have expected at very least, that we would have seen an increase in captioning. And secondly, last year, we said to the Government, you know, there could be consideration for clear masks, or at the very least, helping organizations or businesses to have material or collateral that was displayed that would enable someone who was Deaf and hard of hearing to point out that they are Deaf, and they need a better way to communicate. We gave Government a lot of suggestions last year, about what they could do to improve their pandemic response to consider the Deaf and hard of hearing community. And all that we received was a comment around that yes they could do better, and that they would look to do better in the future. But clearly, nothing has changed.

Jemima Huston


Now, a different thing that is happening this year that wasn't happening last year, is that the majority of the public is very soon going to be able to get their vaccination. What is the process for getting your vaccination like for people who are Deaf, or hard of hearing, particularly during lockdown?

Natasha Gallardo


I think the process again, for vaccinations even, you know, for the disability community is challenging because you're looking at the vaccination sites in terms of are they accessible to my needs? If you look at drive up vaccination sites or when you are going in to have your vaccination, the nurses are you know, fully in PPE, so they have a full PPE mask over the top of that. And there is social distancing. Plus you are asked a series of questions before you start the vaccination. So, again, those barriers exist before you've even began in those situations really heightened levels of anxiety for the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. So yeah, it's certainly very challenging.

Jemima Huston


And just finally, you've said that the Government has provided the support over the last almost two years now. What can everyday people do to support the deaf and hard of hearing community through this time?

Natasha Gallardo


We have provided a number of suggestions and solutions. But I think even just for businesses, essential services, supermarkets, pharmacies, we have a number of posters that can be downloaded from our website, where, it just helps someone who is having hearing loss to be able to say, "Hey, this is how I can communicate best with you." Just being considerate to people who have a hearing loss. I've been in the situation just on the weekend, I had to go to a Medical Center, I had no idea what the person was saying. And it was really actually to be honest, just humiliating having to stand the in trying to explain I've got hearing aids, I can't hear you through all the barriers. And it wasn't that the people weren't trying to understand me, they just didn't know what to do. So that real lack of understanding of how to communicate with someone who has hearing loss. We have lots of solutions available, we wish that the government would actually look at how they could put those solutions out more broadly to the public and to businesses, to enable people to feel a level of comfort when they are going out to these essential services, that they are going to be able to communicate or people are going to understand how best to communicate with them.

Jemima Huston


That was Natasha Gallardo, the Chief Executive of the National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, speaking about how the government has failed to consider the Deaf and Hard of Hearing throughout the pandemic. With the Government having just made mask wearing mandatory for all people above the age of 12, when they are out accessing essential services, the inability for the hearing loss community to easily communicate is still very much an issue. Natasha says that in Aotearoa around 20,000 people use New Zealand sign language and nearly 1 million people are hard of hearing. Therefore, the vast majority of people suffering with hearing loss, do not use sign language to communicate. Captioning digital media is important to ensure that more people are included in consuming media and news. Natasha says New Zealand is far behind in their work on captioning. In Australia, the US and the UK, it is mandatory to have captioning on all free to air media. If you are an essential business owner or someone who wants to learn more about how they can support and better communicate with those with hearing loss during lockdown, and always, you can head to the resources page at which is the National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing website.


That was a 95 b FM podcast. To hear more head to 95

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