Filipino Sign Language crucial for the Deaf in battling COVID-19, civil society groups say | SWP PR 3 Apr 2020
SOCIALWATCH PHILS·FRIDAY, APRIL 3, 2020
Social Watch Philippines (SWP) and FSL ACcess Team for Covid-19 (FSLACT4COVID19) appeal for the government to intensify its information drive against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. “Deaf people have the same need for access to timely public information as with the generic public, but are clearly being left behind during these trying times”, SWP and FSLACT4COVID19 said in a statement.
The government disseminates statements, announcements, and updates on COVID-19 initiatives on a daily basis through press briefings, news releases, videos, and infographics. But the deaf find them either difficult to understand or visually inaccessible.
The result of being left out in the course of calamities like the COVID-19 debacle puts the lives of the deaf, their families and the society in danger, amidst the enhanced community quarantine. “Deaf persons become empowered to protect themselves and their communities only if the information is understandable to them,” SWP argued.
“Without volunteer Filipino Sign Language interpreters, coping with the outbreak would have been even harder for them to bear. Sign language interpreters, shorthanded as they are, are also in a tough spot keeping up with the day-to-day circumstances of their own”, FSLACT4COVID19 added.
Republic Act 11106 or the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) Act provides that the FSL serves as the “official medium of communication in all transactions involving the deaf”, which involves education, workplace, health system and other public transactions, services and facilities. The law further mandates FSL interpreter insets in news and public affairs programs as well as free provision of FSL interpreters and accessible materials to access health services.
Part and parcel of guaranteeing access to public information requires disability-inclusive and -responsive platforms. Traditional forms of media such as television broadcasts and related media should be the norm for reaching out to the deaf nationwide. “Many deaf people do not have access to the internet or social media. There are problems wherein television insets with sign language interpreters are too small for the deaf to understand well. FSL interpreting has to be a regular staple in news and public affairs programs. Government and private media organizations should provide visually sufficient space for sign language interpreter insets during live broadcasts”, FSLACT4COVID19 shared. “While some television programs and public briefings i.e. Laging Handa PH have started to allot FSL interpreter insets, the regular press briefers of the Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the National Task Force COVID-19, and the President’s address to the nation should do the same”, SWP added.
The alliance explained that the segregation of deaf learners from the majority is also seen in their separation in language. While DOH materials use Filipino to reach the masses, they unwittingly shut out the Deaf who are products of a school system that utilizes English as a second language almost exclusively. Thus infographics, social amelioration cards, TV ads, and all other materials put heavy and time-consuming demands on the translation by the volunteers.
The groups recommended further that key agencies under the IATF-EID and the National Task Force COVID-19 work with deaf organizations and Filipino Sign Language interpreters so that a binding Filipino sign language interpreting policy and accessible FSL materials and resources based on FSL law standards can be made available to the wider population of deaf persons.
They reminded the government to lift the already heavy burden of deaf and other persons with disabilities. “Let the COVID-19 situation be a lesson that the government should exert more effort to actively engage deaf people and other persons with disabilities in addressing their urgent need for full access to information”, SWP and FSLACT4COVID19 concluded.
Social Watch Philippines (SWP) is a network of a hundred civil society organizations advocating for transparent, efficient, accountable and pro-poor use of public funds.
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FSL ACcess Team for COVID-19 (FSLACT4COVID19) is an alliance of advocates and allies of the Deaf community exercising moral obligation to provide the Deaf their right to full access to information in ordinary and extraordinary times.
Check their social media page: https://www.facebook.com/FSLACT4COVID19