Coronavirus COVID-19 Deaf Disability Hearing Impaired Japan

Japanese Federation of the Deaf highlights difficulties people with hearing impairments and signers face during COVID-19 crisis

“As hearing-impaired individuals and their interpreters express and comprehend meanings through facial expressions as well as movements of the hands and mouth, masks covering most of the face make communication difficult.”

By Barrier Free Japan

May 10 2020

On May 4, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a press conference that the state of emergency; which was first announced for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka on April 7, and was extended nationwide on April 16, is to remain in place until May 31.

PM Abe removed his mask to speak at this press conference, and some thought this set a bad example, as a lack of ‘social distancing’. However one group of people might have been grateful that they could see the Japanese Prime Minister’s face and mouth move, that group being deaf people in Japan.

There were signers for the deaf at the press conference held by PM Abe, and they wore a clear or ‘see-through’ visor so that people could read their lips as well as their sign language.

The Asahi Shimbun reported on April 28 that people with hearing impairments have problems understanding what people are saying at such press conferences if they wear a mask:

“As hearing-impaired individuals and their interpreters express and comprehend meanings through facial expressions as well as movements of the hands and mouth, masks covering most of the face make communication difficult.”

The Japanese Federation of the Deaf expressed a similar concern regarding people with hearing impairments during the COVID-19 crisis. The Japanese Federation for the Deaf website posted the following statement:

“All hearing impaired persons need information access and communication guarantee by proper ways in any medical settings. Appropriate treatments, and clear and accurate information are essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is the responsibility of the Japanese government and local governments in Japan to provide the information access and communication guarantee.”

The Japanese Federation for the Deaf also highlighted the need for signers to be protected from the new coronavirus. The website states:

If a sign language interpreter were to be infected while interpreting, it should be handled as an occupational injury, and the interpreter should be entitled to compensation for absence from work and for their own medical treatment. Therefore, from this point of view, registered sign language interpreters have not sufficient guarantees; therefore, they are not to be dispatched in such risky settings.

The Japanese Federation of the Deaf is calling for those in contact with hearing disorder patients to provide supplementary information by writing or using speech recognition smartphone apps.

A representative from the federation said: “We will take countermeasures so a situation will not arise where deaf individuals cannot obtain necessary information.”

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