Virginia's deaf, blind communities face unique challenges during pandemic

Published: Apr. 2, 2020 at 9:43 PM EDT
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We are being flooded daily with information about the

. But what if you can't see that information? Or what if you can't hear it?

We reached out to experts to better understand the unique challenges the deaf and blind are experiencing during this crisis.

“It’s a big challenge to get access to information," said Eric Raff, director of the Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Resources for the deaf and blind in Virginia are scrambling to adjust how they serve Virginians during this crisis.

Through an interpreter, Raff said getting information out can be hard, especially if captioning isn't accurate, if interpreters aren't included or are cut out of televised briefings, or if internet connection isn't strong.

“Well right now I think we are finding that it’s the same with people who can hear in rural areas where there’s no access to broadband," Raff said. "Our technology is very heavily reliant on broadband.”

Raff also worries how the deaf might communicate with doctors, while wearing protective gear.

“Part of the communication is obviously on the face and so masks of course cover that, so there’s a barrier there, so how do we communicate effectively?” he said.

Raff also said he is working to assist in creating and providing more online vlogs with information for the deaf. He is working now to encourage that local towns and counties also use an interpreter for virtual town halls and city council meetings held online.

Lack of access is the same concern for Liang Liao, who leads Roanoke's Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

Liao said Thursday that not being able to go to school is an even greater challenge for blind students.

“So the closing of schools are preventing the teachers for the vision impaired from accessing the equipment that they need to make materials for the students," he said.

Her department is actively working to help those teachers utilize resources and lesson plans outside the classroom.

Lao says getting groceries is also harder, especially with reduced public transportation. They're trying to provide services and education over the phone. That includes teaching people to use apps they can use to buy groceries. They're also working to give them pieces of technology to help them better communicate.

“And we’re sending them what we call our care package, things like a large print calendar, a talking key chain," she said. "You know just to tell time – something we may all take granted.”

Both Lao and Raff are most concerned for the deafblind, individuals whose vision and hearing are both impaired. They say they fear those individuals becoming even more isolated, since many of them require tactile communication - almost impossible given social distancing.

Both agencies are doing their best to help where they can. They're waiting, as we all are, to hear, to see, to know when life can go back to normal.

More information for the blind or vision impaired in Roanoke can be found

More information on the the Virginia Department of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing can be found

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