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 available in sign language. And security measures like wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing have made communication more complicated. As schools around the world closed due to the pandemic, distance learning alternatives often failed to meet the needs of children who use sign language, leaving them isolated and excluded from schooling 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 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 are celebrating International Sign Language Day 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 people who are deaf and hard of hearing are respected and are included equally and meaningfully in the society.