Since the COVID pandemic, social distancing and isolation procedures have affected communication greatly for everyone. Having to stay a certain distance apart from others as well as wearing masks makes it hard to speak or hear clearly; furthermore, it is almost impossible to read other’s facial expressions. Yet at the same time, people with disabilities for hearing or seeing are forgotten by others as they struggle to adapt to new procedures because of their limitations.
Under normal circumstances, hearing-impaired people already have a hard time communicating. One option is to communicate with ASL, the standard sign language in America. Yet the majority of people don’t know sign language, making that a less usable option. Another way to communicate is by lipreading and analyzing body language. Unfortunately, with the requirement of masks in public, it would be impossible to lipread and even to see basic emotions from others’ facial expressions. A potential solution would be by using transparent face masks, yet again most people don’t have these types of face masks. Perhaps the easiest way to communicate is writing letters with your fingers on other peoples’ hands or simply writing sentences on accessible mediums such as paper. However, most people may not have pencils and paper in every situation to communicate back and both of these methods require touching or sharing writing utensils, something that can spread germs easily.
On the other spectrum, visually impaired people have found themselves in similar situations. It is necessary for blind people to touch things in order to navigate in public places, something that breaks COVID guidelines. At the same time, it would be tough to socially distance since it is not possible for blind people to detect exactly where everyone is. As a result, a study from RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) found that the amount of visually impaired individuals going to public shops halved during the pandemic.
Fortunately, as technology becomes more advanced, there are new methods to support people with disabilities. For people with hearing disabilities, there are numerous types of software that can convert any audio input into live captions, making any important messages from the teacher in virtual meetings readable text. In addition, for individuals with visual impairments, smart canes and tools further advancing technology for detecting nearby objects in a path are being developed and made accessible to the public. One example is the Sunu Band, a wearable wristband that vibrates when obstacles are at a certain adjustable distance.
In summary, although most people have been caught up in their own struggles and issues from the pandemic, it is important to be aware of the extra challenges people with hearing and visual disabilities face.