COVID-19: Do not leave deaf people behind!
A tool kit for inclusion

This toolkit has been developed in response to the need to ensure that deaf people included in the COVID-19 response. Worldwide, COVID-19 has ravaged through communities and has particularly affected economic and social life. deaf people are no exception, and due to their vulnerability which comes around as a result of communication barriers, they are severely affected.

As the COVID-19 response currently gains traction, it is paramount to ensure the existence of guidelines enabling state and non-state actors, including public authorities, frontline workers and deaf persons themselves to know how to include Deaf people in the response.

The purpose of this toolkit is to:

  1. Facilitate access to information about COVID-19 for the benefit of the deaf
  2. Explain strategies to assist the deaf in advocating for an inclusive COVID-19 response plan.
  3. Influence relevant authorities to mainstream deaf people’s issues as part of the COVID-19 Response.

The guidelines will be utilized by associations of the deaf, Human Rights Groups, Organisations for Persons with Disabilities and the wider Civil Society who will support government and other key actors in the pandemic response to effectively enable the inclusion of deaf persons.

According to UNICEF, Corona Virus (Abbreviated as COVID-19) is a new virus that causes a respiratory illness in people and animals and can spread from person-to person through sneezing and coughing droplets. This virus has signs and symptoms similar to the common cold but is dangerous and if not reported early and managed by Health Workers it can cause severe illnesses in humans and can lead to death.

How to avoid getting infected?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are several ways to not only avoid getting infected by covid-19 but also to protect others from getting infected in case you are COVID-19 positive. They include:

Testing for the COVID-19

There are two kinds of tests are available for COVID-19: viral tests and antibody tests.

  • Viral test: A viral test if done can help tell you if you have a current infection,
  • Antibody test: Might tell you if you had a past infection previously that might have healed unknowingly.

COVID-19 tests are done at government accredited testing centers that include hospitals, some countries have drive-in testing points where you can drive in and get tested on your way.

Access to COVID-19 information from the government

Deaf people face a multitude of barriers in accessing information due to lack of accessible information channels in the national sign language that can enable them access information such as news on television. The pandemic has further exposed the vulnerability of deaf people as they are unable to access vital information such as updates and briefings from the government, simple facts on COVID-19 as well as how to protect themselves. Very few initiatives such as the availing of videos in national sign language as well as sign language insets have been adopted albeit in limited cases.

Using national sign language to provide COVID-19 information to deaf people

Sign language is one of the basic ways through which information on COVID-19 can be conveyed to deaf people, with majority of deaf people now proficient in national sign language and able to communicate relatively well, Information about COVID-19 needs to be channelled to deaf people via the national sign language.

Sign Language Interpreters

Sign Language interpreters offer a very important job that enables deaf people access information. However, their involvement in the process needs to be guided so as to enable effective relay of information. Most interpreters working during the COVID-19 response have been limited to mainly television news bulletins and press conferences due to the strict guidelines on meetings.

Communication with health service providers

Health workers are often encouraged to know basic sign language to be able to help deaf clients in various situations. In the case of COVID-19 related information, health workers could basically know how to provide the Deaf with information or to examine and assess deaf patients.

The role of representative organisations of deaf people
in ensuring accessible and proper information

Associations of the deaf and leaders of deaf people are a vital part of ensuring inclusion of deaf persons in the COVID-19 response. This is because the deaf community is entwined and its leadership offers a crucial support when it comes to accessing information. In instances where the deaf community requires certain information, usually, it Is easier to relay it via the representative organisations as that signifies its validity and deaf people would easily accept it as the right information

Advocating for an inclusive COVID-19 response

Advocacy as we all know is about influencing. And to make the COVID-19 response inclusive to deaf people requires stakeholders to be persuaded to understand the need for including deaf people and the gravity of the situation in case deaf people are not included in the response plans.

Using the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)
and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UNCRPD is an international human rights legislation adopted in 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly. It is the first international convention/law focusing on the rights of persons with disabilities. It explicitly mentioning sign languages and recognizing them as full languages. The Convention does not create new rights. Its aim is to show that persons with disability have the same rights as others. The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities.

Forming alliances with other stakeholders

Building alliances is an important part of advocacy and a COVID-19 inclusion advocacy plan should have key actors working together to influence the decisions that can lead to the inclusion of deaf persons in the response plan.

Tools for advocacy

Below is examples of advocacy activities:

  • Using the mass media (e.g. press conferences, television and newspapers),
  • Social media platforms (Facebook and twitter)
  • Meetings, personal face to face visits socially distanced,
  • Video, written correspondence, electronic communication (letters, petitions, statements, etc.)
  • Use of influential persons
  • Peaceful demonstrations

COVID-19 vaccine: Are deaf people among the key targets?

While the vaccine rolls out worldwide, the governments are putting in place mechanisms to ensure that the vulnerable access the vaccine first as a mandatory step to control the spread of the virus.

Addressing exclusion of deaf persons in daily life

Deaf people depend mostly on physical gatherings to get information and interact with each other in sign language.

Statement on the right of deaf people to equal treatment


Read the statement (view PDF)