The current pandemic is already having a disproportionate impact on hearing-impaired persons with cochlear implants. They face:
Disruption of essential services and support.
Higher risk of serious illness or death due to the greater presence of other health conditions.
Exclusion from important health information and mainstream health provision.
Living in an inaccessible world where barriers to goods and services are everywhere.
Taking into account:
The United Nations Convention Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, was ratified by 163 countries. Among them, all European countries in the European Union.
UNCRPD Article 9 ensures accessibility to information and communication. Take measures to eliminate barriers to accessibility to information, communication and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.
UNCRPD Article 24 ensures access to inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.
The Accessibility Act was approved last year by the European Union and it set accessibility requirements for several products and services, including emergency services.
The European Cochlear Implant Users’ Association, EURO-CIU Demands:
1- Accessible Emergency number:
Most countries still do not have an accessible emergency number. They keep telling citizens to telephone if they need assistance. A global written alternative must be made available.
2- Accessible Official communication:
Most countries have issued new reports, regulations, laws, etc. but have not made them accessible to persons with hearing loss. Governmental and official communication must be accessible with live speech-to-text captioning.
3- Accessible Education:
Online education is being hastily adopted without considering the needs of hearing-impaired and cochlear implant students. Cochlear implant users cannot follow online classes without subtitles or if they cannot lip-read their teachers. Pupils are assigned a lot of written homework but without adequate explanation. Without classroom support, there is no-one to give context or ensure that the student understands what is required. Where students normally use note takers or other support, the service should continue to be provided while they are learning remotely. Education must be accessible for all students.
4- Accessible Labour:
Working from home typically requires online work meetings. Cochlear Implant users normally need transcription to follow online meetings. Speech-to-text facilities should be subsidized by the government to ensure accessibility in working life.
5- Inclusion of Essential services for cochlear implant users:
If CI users who use disposable batteries are quarantined, hospitalised or are not allowed out following #StayAtHome campaigns, they need to be able to have batteries delivered to them. This service must be considered essential. Without batteries, the communication chain for CI users breaks down.
6- Accessible Masks:
Face masks make communication between deaf people and, particularly, medical professionals unnecessarily challenging. This accessibility problem could be easily solved by the widespread use of masks with a clear window through which lips can be read.
7- Alternative Transcription Services:
Normal face-to-face interpretation services, such as speech-to-text, may suffer during the pandemic. At this time, we urge countries to rapidly adopt and support remote captioning services. In many cases the services or technology already exist but authorities do not fund them.
We must not forget Cochlear Implant Users and Hearing Loss persons during emergencies.
EURO-CIU urges everyone to stay at home and respect the rules issued by their governments but remember #StayingAtHome does not mean isolation. Now is the moment to be inclusive and accessible to get society through this together.