COVID-19 poses additional challenges for the hearing impaired

Published: May. 27, 2020 at 10:42 PM CDT
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For the last three months we've gotten the latest COVID-19 information from our federal, state and local leaders but for many, that critical information comes from sign language interpreters. One local woman explains how she relies on these interpreters and the additional challenges the pandemic has posed for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Every day in my life there's a challenge. This is my first language, American Sign Language, my second is English, third is the captioning or written English,” said Nevrija Sulja.

Nearly one out of every six people in Winnebago County lives with some form of hearing loss. Many like Sulja rely on interpreters to get important information.

“If there was no interpreter then I wouldn't watch because it would cause me more anxiety and stress, more worry,” said Sulja.

“It's important for them to know what's happening right now, not two weeks ago or three weeks ago when they can understand what’s happening or find correct information from resources in the community,” said Sign Language Interpreter Rachel Eaton.

Rachel Eaton became a sign language interpreter ten years ago and signs during the Winnebago County Health Department’s briefings. She says making sure everyone in our community is informed is critical during times like these.

“Having access, again in your first language, it's vital and it will help greatly reduce the amount of stress and that burden of the unknown for a community that already has limited access,” said Eaton.

The deaf and hard of hearing community faces daily challenges. Even a solution to keep us safe from COVID-19 creates a barrier for communication.

“Now with required masks, they can’t even notice if someone has started to talk. Before they could at least have lip reading but now there’s nothing and lip reading itself isn’t enough to be able to understand,” said Eaton.

“This is really hard for me. I wish they had a mask that was clear so you could see lips and be able to read the lips and it would be a lot clearer, and it would help me understand or help us understand,” said Sulja.

Sulja says she's grateful the state and county provide interpreters during news conferences and hopes this will raise awareness for the deaf community.

“Thank you so much for supporting the deaf community and helping us understand. We need your help also so we can be equal to hearing people,” said Sulja.

“Just being so patient with one another and kind because we never know what’s going on you don’t know if the person is deaf or if they have other disabilities or other things that are making it challenging to cope right now,” said Eaton.