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Signs of times as virus news reaches people with hearing difficulties

Updated: 2020-02-10 07:10:00

( China Daily )

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A screenshot of Liu Lihong, vice-president of the Guangyuan Special Education School, in a video clip advising the hearing-impaired to wear face masks during the coronavirus outbreak. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A sign interpreter appeared at the 10th news conference on the new coronavirus outbreak in Beijing on Tuesday, other than officials and journalists, a first at such events.

Through her movements and gestures, people with hearing difficulties were able to get firsthand information at the live briefing.

It means a smoother communication channel to, and better protection for, the hearing-impaired in the capital during the growing health crisis.

One day before the conference, the Beijing Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing issued an initiative on Beijing Daily calling for sign language interpreters to be arranged for press conferences to enable the hearing-impaired to keep up to date with news of the epidemic.

The virus, the epicenter of which is Wuhan, Hubei province, has infected more than 31,200 people and killed more than 630 across the country as of Friday, according to official data. Beijing has 297 confirmed cases of infection, including one death.

According to the second national survey by the China Disabled Persons' Federation in 2016, over 15 percent of the country's population suffers from hearing loss, totaling 204 million. More than 67 million of them suffer from severe hearing loss that impacts their everyday life.

Given the size of this population, they shouldn't become a vulnerable group in the information technology era, says Zhu Tao, a researcher with the National Institute of Social Development under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Access to news programs on TV is their right, which we should guarantee," Zhu adds.

In order to let them know about the latest situation, the Beijing Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has released a series of videos with sign language interpreting the reports published by the mainstream media.

"The Beijing Sign Language Studies has helped to shoot four videos, involving guidance about prevention of the evolving coronavirus, safety and health tips in daily life and clarification of rumors about the illness," Cheng Hai, chairman of the association, tells Beijing Daily.

However, it is still "far from enough", Cheng says.

Zhu agrees that a long-term mechanism should be established for the information access for the hearing-impaired, especially during emergencies or disasters.

The good news is that the disabled federations across the country have released sign language videos about reducing the risk of the virus infection.

In Heilongjiang province, Suihua University has set up a sign language team. They have produced a series of short videos to help combat the virus.

"Although I cannot fight against the coronavirus at the frontline like the doctors and nurses, my classmates, teachers and I have contributed in our own way," Li Zhihao, a student at the university, tells Guangming Daily.

In Guangyuan, Sichuan province, Liu Lihong, vice-president of the Guangyuan Special Education School, recorded two videos on Feb 1 to inform the hearing-impaired about the outbreak, advising them to stay at home and wash their hands frequently.

"Although there is news about the virus everywhere, some of the hearing-impaired cannot read. The video helps them to understand what's going on and how to protect themselves," Liu says.

Zhao Tianxiu, head of the Guangyuan Disabled Federation, applauds Liu's video.

"At this stage in the fight against the coronavirus, we should pay more attention to disadvantaged groups, attend to their needs and give them confidence," Zhao says.

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