Imagine that during a national emergency, you and your loved ones are in danger. The government announces information that could have a profound impact on your security, but you do not have access to it because it was not made available to you.
This is the situation many deaf people found themselves in during the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, when important information was broadcast on television, it was often not made available in sign language. And security measures such as wearing face masks and maintaining social distance have made the communication more complicated. As schools around the world closed due to the pandemic, distance learning alternatives did not meet the needs children who use sign language, leaving them isolated and excluded from school for long periods of time.
But even without an ongoing crisis, Human Rights Watch research found that people who are deaf and hard of hearing face many barriers to accessing basic information and services. In Russia, Iran, Zambia and other countries, the lack of sign language interpreters and information in accessible formats prevents deaf people from accessing health care. “Every time I go to the hospital with no one to interpret for me, they write on a piece of paper that I should come back and bring someone with me,” said a hearing-impaired woman in Gaza. “This experience made me feel less like a person.”
Our research in China, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal found that deaf children face barriers to accessing sign language education, while in many other countries, including India and in Peru, communication barriers hamper access to public services.
“Sign language must be respected like any other language. It is our fundamental right and it enables us to communicate and be equal members of our communities, ”said Jenny Nilsson, member of Human Rights Watch’s Disability Rights Advisory Committee and ombudsman for children with disabilities. in Sweden.
Today we celebrate the International day of sign languages under the theme “We sign for human rights. As governments continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and plan to ‘build back better’, they should ensure that the human rights of deaf and hard of hearing people are respected and included equally and meaningful in society.