Deaf people not receiving vital virus info – claim

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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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The absence of a sign language interpreter is leaving deaf people out of the coronavirus information pool, says the leader of a disability organisation.

Bernard Warner, president of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Persons Living with Disabilities (ABAPD), told Observer that these individuals are not receiving pertinent and relevant precautionary information.

“We have not truly seen any move, especially by the government, to ensure people who are hearing-impaired are given equal information,” he said.

Warner said international and regional media houses have included sign language specialists as part of their television newscasts, but Antigua and Barbuda seems to be left behind.

“The absence of a sign language interpreter on all of the visual interviews is frightening,” he said.

Warner also called for subtitles or closed captioning for the deaf, along with tailored audio messages, large fonts and braille leaflets for visually-impaired and blind people. He said short accessible messages were needed to explain simple ways to mitigate against infection and spread.

Meanwhile, the Disabled People’s International of North America and the Caribbean has written to several governments around the world, including Antigua and Barbuda, to address concerns about the virus.

“We told them that our disability sector remains most vulnerable as medical consensus indicates that older persons and persons with specific medical conditions and disabilities who have an impaired immune system are at greatest risk of developing complications from COVID-19,” Warner, who serves as the body’s public relations officer, said.

He said the governments were also told that greater vigilance and diligence are required “on our part especially as we put measures in place to ensure that all public service announcements and related national pronouncements by medical and political leaders are in formats accessible to our diverse membership”.

The letter called on the relevant authorities to ensure that vital information and instructions on COVID-19 are in accessible formats.

“Understanding that persons with disabilities are also among the poorest and most vulnerable in all societies and that we will be adversely affected by isolation and quarantine measures without provision for food, care and essential resources, it is incumbent upon our organisations to advocate for greatest social protection and access to information for our membership,” it stated.

Leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Joanne Massiah also expressed concern that information is not reaching the most vulnerable people.

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