All Victorians are now "encouraged" to wear facemasks. (Image: David Veksler.)
by Tamara Trinder-Scacco
This story is part of our My Corona series: personal stories about the pandemic, life in isolation and Victorians’ hopes and fears for the future.
I was born Deaf. All my family are Deaf, my husband and my two daughters too. Ours is a Deaf house.
We can communicate in Auslan and spoken English. We adjust which we use depending on the situation.
I prefer using Auslan because I cannot rely on my hearing. If the person I’m with can’t sign I have to rely 100% on lipreading.
Before COVID-19 we could manage fine. My husband and I had support and my daughters had support at school.
Then COVID-19 happened.
The first lockdown was an interesting experience, some positive and some negative.
For example my younger daughter, who is 10, had an emergency trip to hospital in an ambulance. Before they picked her up I explained that we were Deaf and needed to be able to see their faces to lipread.
Both paramedics had masks on and I was concerned about that.
But they were really good, they stood two meters away and removed their masks to explain things to me so I could lipread. I was grateful.
It was the same on the ambulance ride to the hospital, they would lower their masks to communicate. I was really thankful for that.
When we arrived at hospital they were stricter about wearing masks. We arrived at 3am and I knew it would be tricky to find an Auslan interpreter at that time. Both my daughter and I would need to be able to lipread to understand what was happening.
At first the doctors used written notes to communicate with us. It worked, but it was slow and time was getting on, my daughter was in pain and I was frantic.
A senior doctor realised that passing notes back and forth was too much, and lowered their mask whilst keeping two meters away. The doctor gave me an update on the plan for my daughter. We had to wait for X-rays and blood tests.
It was stressful, we had to wait a long time and I was twiddling my thumbs with no communication. I could see the doctors talking but couldn’t understand what they were saying. It was very isolating.
I could see the doctors talking but couldn’t understand what they were saying. It was very isolating.
Another mostly negative experience is the impact on my two daughters of moving to remote learning.
My older girl is in Year 11 and the younger one is in Year 5. Our experience of remote learning in the first lockdown was not good; in fact it was terrible.
Both girls’ mental health suffered because they didn’t have enough face-to-face access with their teachers.
Like many children who are Deaf or hard of hearing, they found working online using Google Meet exhausting because they had to focus closely on the screen to be able to lipread or read captions.
The children need to be mindful of not trying to rush through their work to get everything done. In the second lockdown I have reminded my girls that they can only do their best and if they don’t get everything done they should accept it and move on. But it’s hard.
For my older daughter, who is doing her VCE, I’m concerned about the impact of remote learning on her marks. I hope it won’t have a long-term impact on her future.
And I really hope that remote learning does not have a long-term impact on the girls’ mental health.
I understand that Stage Four restrictions are limiting what everyone can do, but they have extra impact on me as a Deaf person. For example, it’s a challenge when we need to go shopping. The wider community is generally not aware that if they meet a Deaf person they are allowed to remove their mask so the person can lipread, keeping a two meter distance and replacing their mask when they finish speaking.
I can’t force someone to remove their mask but it challenges me and affects my mental health.
There is some amazing technology available, really brilliant, but because I’ve been using this technology a lot since March it has become completely exhausting.
I use screens for about 12 hours a day: for work, interacting with clients, and personal communication like catching up with family and friends. It’s a challenge for Deaf people, especially when they’re meeting new people online. Sometimes I try to avoid going on social media or talking to anyone during my downtime.
It’s wonderful to have interpreters on the TV for breaking news, but it was not easy to set up. The Deaf community and Deaf organisations had to lobby and advocate for Deaf people to have access to these interpreter services.
We should not have to fight so hard for our basic needs and rights. It is exhausting. It makes me angry. It is a constant battle.
I—along with my immediate family and the wider Deaf community—will have long-term impacts from the COVID-19 situation, especially on our mental health.
Having to find new ways of communicating, navigate constant rule changes and advocate for access to information – these things stay with us for a long time.
As does society’s lack of awareness. My Deaf peers and their families are often abused by the community for not wearing masks when they need to communicate.
I would like to see people be less judgemental. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind.