In the days before we even knew what Covid-19 was, my team at The Prevention Alliance in Stockport worked as key workers from a drop in based within Stockport Town Centre. A wide variety of people would come to see us with an equally extensive range of issues that required assistance. My team thought on our feet and responded with calm reassurance – no matter what the problem was, we would find a way to resolve it.
On Wednesdays we held our Deaf Drop In – a day dedicated to the deaf community where we would support people with communication issues, translating letters, making phone calls, and advocating for deaf people when needed. Although the deaf community were always welcome to drop in on other days, Wednesdays were always much more effective for them because a BSL interpreter spends the day with us too.
Then, in March 2020, everything was turned upside down. As the country processed the news and the Covid-19 virus cases increased rapidly – our senior management were holding meetings in accordance with government guidelines about the possibility of staff working from home whilst still providing a quality service.
The day this became a reality, our usual calmness and reassurance was quickly put to the test. Arriving at the office with no idea of when we would next see it in person again, the team worked to transport their desks, chairs, office phones, and equipment into their homes with immediate effect and by the following morning – it was business as usual.
Whilst everyone in the hearing community started to try and get up to speed with video conferencing apps and platforms, our deaf community didn’t need much help in that regard – they were already so experienced in video calling! As a key worker, I had to give myself a crash course into the world of Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, Messenger, IMO, etc. It certainly was a baptism of fire but it’s amazing what we can achieve when we have to.
The BSL interpreter that we regularly work with has been a marvel over the last year, she has adapted to every change with amazing ease and no complaint – she works so hard to ensure that our service users get the best support possible and without her, we’d be lost! Ali has taught us more about effective communication than we ever thought possible, and has been a huge help in making our drop in a success – especially when we had to go virtual. We can’t wait to be at the service back in person though, as we miss our coffee mornings with her!
A year on and aside from my own increasing competency with video calling – my team have worked with a plethora of issues from the deaf community. With the introduction of masks being used in a widespread manner, and the difficulties with not being able to book face to face appointments the deaf community faced a huge amount of challenges during the lockdowns we went through. In addition we saw services refusing to book BSL interpreters for video calls, GP surgeries telling their deaf patients that only phone call appointments were available to them, and then the lack of BSL interpreters at Government briefings that were there to provide the nation with vital information – unfortunately there was a dramatic rise in the amount of discrimination faced by those with sensory loss.
Undeniably, there were challenges but one positive thing we have all been heartened to see has been the marked increase in BSL friendly apps from other service providers. BSL Health Access was funded by SignHealth to give deaf people a way of accessing interpreters virtually in certain healthcare settings, and various banks started to provide SignLive access for their deaf customers on virtual platforms – giving deaf people much needed access and independence to manage their own lives effectively. Unfortunately, with funding cuts on the horizon, the question of whether or not these services will remain a permanent fixture has yet to be answered – but we live in hope!
Although we are all yearning for the day when we can safety interact with each other, we are committed to continue our work with the deaf community and other organisations to raise awareness, tackle discrimination, and make our society a more accessible place – in any way we can.
Ruth and Ali (interpreter) with a Deaf gentleman currently residing in a care home
Jo, Ruth and Ali (interpreter) in a video call with a deaf couple