The pandemic has hit hard everyone. However, some people have suffered more than others. Focus on the vulnerable categories is an important aspect of the work of the World Health Organisation and the European Union.
Now, 25 workplaces for sign language interpreters will be equipped with Internet-enabled tablets around the country. It will allow hearing-impaired people – there are about 10,000 of them in Belarus – to feel more confident (since help is available at any time), while reducing the COVID-19 contamination risk among interpreters.
“All people are wearing masks during the pandemic; therefore, I am unable to read lips and see what words they pronounce. Going to a polyclinic turns into a real challenge, since I am unable to see either what they say at the appointment desk, or the doctor’s explanations. Sometimes, I have to go around in circles until a doctor takes me by the arm to the right place,” - Anatoly, a young hearing impaired man, tells his story.
Physical distancing and masks are the essential protection measures against COVID-19. In such conditions, though, a hearing-impaired person is neither able to read lips nor recognize the interlocutor’s emotions, which drives them into an even deeper isolation.
Another important issue is the need to provide protection to sign language interpreters. There are only slightly more than 60 of them in the country, 45% of whom being of the retirement age. Providing escort to polyclinics or other important places to everyone during the pandemic is dangerous. The latest Internet technologies may come to save the situation.
Dr Masoud Dara, WHO Regional Director's Special Representative to Belarus/Belarus Country Office Manager; and Natalia Stasevich, Project Coordinator of the European Union Delegation to Belarus, handed over the tablets and COVID-19 printed materials to Sergey Saputo, the Central Board Chairperson of the Belarusian Society of the Deaf.
“One of the lessons of the pandemic is that we have to join our efforts and work together. These days, technical means enable remote consultations and activities, and we must make the best of such opportunities Today’s small donation was made possible owing to the funds provided by the European Union. And we highly appreciate it. It is a token of solidarity, first of all. No one should be left forgotten. It also applies to the society of the deaf. We are always standing by you, ready to provide the necessary support,” - mentioned Dr Masoud Dara.
Natalia Stasevich, Project Coordinator of the European Union Delegation to Belarus: “Our today’s assistance is provided within the framework of a major EU partner country support project. It is important for us to know that it is really needed and useful in the hard times of the pandemic. They hit the hardest those who have physical limitations and problems that they might not be able to cope with alone. We are happy to be able to provide assistance in cooperation with our WHO partners.”
Sergey Saputo, the Central Board Chairperson of the Belarusian Society of the Deaf: “More than 55% of our society members are disabled, 51% of them are women. Our 6 regional and 15 inter-district organisations provide their services to hearing-disabled persons around the country. We help them deal with all social issues. We are highly grateful to the European Union and WHO for their timely support.”
“The possibility to operate remotely is crucial for us, as many interpreters are afraid of putting their health at risk when they escort hearing-disabled persons. We are highly grateful to the European Union and WHO for their participation and support,” - says Tatiana Goncharik, a sign language interpreter.
The tablets were handed over within the framework of the project “Solidarity For Health” funded by the European Union and implemented by WHO together with the Ministry of Health.
What additional problems do hearing-impaired persons face during the pandemic? How can they be addressed? Watch the story of Nikita and Anatoly in the clip.