Janis McDonald gives tips on communicating effectively with those who are deaf or hearing impaired
On Thursday, the first of three public memorials for George Floyd was held in Minneapolis before he is buried in Houston, Texas, where he grew up. In his death, held down by officers for eight minutes and 46 seconds despite saying he couldn't breathe, George has left a legacy and it is up to the living to progress it. Understandably inclusion, justice, poverty and equality are words used frequently to reflect on the life of George and at George’s memorial, sign language was part of the service ensuring his friends and family were not excluded from remembering the man he was and wanted to be. In my circles inclusion, poverty and equality have particular significance for the million Scots affected by deafness. Clearly, inclusion is not enough, integration is what we seek.
Of course, there are also examples of when inclusive communication can go badly wrong such as at the memorial for Nelson Mandela when the man on the platform just waved his arms around. The theatrics were impressive but entirely useless to those whose first language is visual. Thankfully the accredited interpreters who appear behind the First Minister on the daily briefings about Covid-19 do communicate effectively but they also show that both signing, lip patterns and the facial movements form a package of communication. Having to wear face masks limits the communication. Yes, people need to be safe and wear PPE, but we must also be sensitive about ensuring people can understand what is being said and their voice and opinions are heard too.
deafscotland has operated since 1927 with a simple message – that people with sensory loss face extra barriers to accessing healthcare which can put them at risk of missing out on the care they need. In addition, due to the increased risk of reduced well-being, long term conditions and adverse outcomes from respiratory conditions for many deaf people, they may be more likely to need to access healthcare services. At this time, it is vital that everyone but particularly health and social care workers can still make the reasonable adjustments required by law that these people or patients need. So, here are some tips on ensuring that whatever you do, socially and economically, you can communicate effectively. Please use the tips for family and friends too:
● Where possible, always talk directly with the person;
● Always ask for the individual’s preferred language and communication method;
● Remember that dark, noisy and busy environments can make communication difficult for many, especially people with sensory challenges;
● Try to speak clearly at a reasonable pace;
● People may have more than one disability;
● Do not assume just because someone has a mobile number or can speak that they can receive important communications via text or hear;
● Adjustments may include using visors rather than face masks, electronic or digital supports or pen and paper.
As Scotland recovers better and more fairly, let us ensure that we each do our part in making Scotland the first ‘inclusive communication’ nation. Already we have made a good start with specific requirements included in the recent Coronavirus (Scotland) No 2 Act, on social security and consumer law. However, we need to build the social and economic infrastructure, good built space, positive acoustics and access to technical equipment that will provide the workforce with the right skill set and have the organisational structures in place to deliver. deafscotland looks forward to working with its third, public and private sector partners and with politicians from all parties to make that a reality. Please join us too in calling for Communication For All.
Janis McDonald is CEO of deafscotland