Catholic Deaf Awareness Week 2020

  • Shell Roca, Sr Marika Rebicsek OCV

Shell Roca writes: 10th - 16th May is Catholic Deaf Awareness Week. In usual times we would be heading off to Walsingham on 16th May to gather for the annual Deaf pilgrimage with people coming from all round to the country, those who are Deaf, deafened, hard of hearing and hearing all joining to worship together. It is always a day full of fellowship, friendship and fun and will be greatly missed by many this year, but we know that we will be back there again in the future.

With many parishes offering help to people in these challenging days via the telephone, something that has been done brilliantly in so many places, offering people the opportunity to send a text message rather than call would open a lifeline to many people who find it impossible to have a spoken telephone conversation.

If you have a mobile phone number that people can text, please be patient if the English in the text message is not that clear. British Sign Language (BSL) has its own structure and grammar so a person who regularly communicates in BSL might not have good written English. Keep any questions short and simple to answer. "Are you ill?" " Do you need any food?" Be prepared to ask a number of simple questions rather than a long complex sentence containing many different questions.

If you are delivering a parcel, or food or medicine to a person who you know is Deaf or hard of hearing try to stand, two metres away of course, so that the sun is not directly behind you. A bright light behind you means your face would be in shadow and make any lip-reading difficult. If you are wearing a mask when you deliver anything, leave a simple note on the shopping to check if the person is getting on ok. The need for people to wear masks is understood however for those who rely on lip reading it is another barrier and another situation where their isolation increases.

Depending on the church calendar for the year our Walsingham pilgrimage often coincides with either Ascension Day or Pentecost. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we are all reminded of the apostles being filled with the Holy Spirit and being given the gift of languages. To understand each other is truly a gift from God that cannot be underestimated. In these difficult days, understanding others languages and culture brings us closer together, if physically still at a distance, our hearts and minds are joined. The next time you speak to somebody and they don't answer, please don't jump to the conclusion that they are ignoring you, it is very possible that the person is Deaf or hard of hearing and doesn't know that you have spoken to them, especially if you are wearing a mask. If you are looking for something to fill your time why not learn some British sign language. There are online courses available, some of which are currently free. For tips on communicating with people who are Deaf or hard of hearing have a look at the Caritas website:

Every person is an individual and will have a preferred way of communicating. If you are finding one way doesn't work, try again, and again, and again. Don't give up! Show the person who is Deaf or hard of hearing that they matter and keep trying to communicate with them even if it is feels difficult. If you are struggling ask the Holy Spirit for help. The Holy Spirit gave the gift of language and understanding to the Apostles and will do the same for all of us who seek help.

Last week was National Deaf Awareness Week. The national campaign #whereistheinterpreter challenges the Government to step forward and provide access in sign language for Deaf people to the government briefings.

See the Instagram post:

Deaf Lives Matter

Sr Marika Rebicsek OCV writes: Easter season, a time of light and hope, maybe not something we are feeling this year. In the current situation where we are becoming more used to online live streamed Masses, queuing for food at the supermarket and standing at least two metres away from anyone we do not live with, our normal lives have been turned on their heads. Amongst these dark times for many there is light and hope, that comes only from our faith in the Lord.

For those with access to technology there is the opportunity to watch Mass online. For our Deaf Community there are signed Masses online too and we are grateful to all the priests who have given their time to provide these online signed Masses, but there are many in the Deaf Community that do not have access to the right technology to view these Masses or possibly do not have the knowledge of how to use the technology even if it is available.

For people who are hard of hearing and rely on lip reading to follow what is happening this is a very difficult time. I had a conversation with a person who is hard of hearing recently via a video link and it created so much frustration. With my voice at full volume the person could hear a bit however there was a time difference between what the person could hear and what they are seeing on the screen. The synchronisation of audio and visual was far enough out that it made lip reading impossible. Live subtitles using voice recognition? Yes they do exist however a quick viewing of the DVD "Catholicity" lead the phrase "bread that perishes" to become "Brad Pitt parishes" in the live subtitles! It means that those who rely on these technologies to follow what is happening often miss the message. If you want to experience this yourself turn the subtitles on one evening and watch the news with the sound off, that will give you a small insight into the challenges of just relying on live subtitles.

This is Deaf Awareness Week, but Deaf Awareness is not just about one week, it is about making sure the Deaf Community is fully part of every aspect of life, sharing their gifts and talents with everyone every week of the year. Many Deaf people in the current pandemic are at a greater risk of exclusion. "The lack of Deaf awareness in the current situation is shocking and creating huge additional anxiety. My GP was insisting on a telephone appointment with me for some medication that it is vitally important I have. I am Deaf and live alone, I cannot have a telephone appointment, but still they insist. After queuing at the chemist I discovered the medication I needed had not been ordered despite me writing to my GP and explaining the situation. My specialist was telling me that I had to go to contact my GP as a matter of urgency, but how? I know of other Deaf friends in the same situation. Lives of Deaf people should be as important as lives of hearing people. I get so frustrated every time I see the Government briefings, where is the interpreter? Any subtitles lag and are of poor quality. Deaf lives matter."


Tags: Deaf, Deaf Awareness Week, Shell Roca, Sr Marika Rebicsek OCV

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