BOISE, Idaho — COVID-19 has been tough for everyone and has presented new challenges for many of us--but for Idaho's Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, the pandemic has presented unique challenges.
"The population of the deaf community is about 200 thousand, and it's quite obvious that this pandemic is impacting every single one of them," said Steven Snow, executive director of the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Even pre-pandemic, Snow said every day was a battle for accessibility. Now, accessibility is even harder--and it's more essential than ever.
"Deaf and hard of hearing people are used to doing that 24/7. Every time they go to the grocery store or the doctor's office or their workplace, they have to think of those accommodations," explained Snow. "Deaf individuals don't have access to news outlets. Many of them are not captioned or don't provide a sign language interpreter so they are the last to receive pertinent information. Because of that, they are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19."
The Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing says the silver lining of the pandemic is that it has opened the door for conversations about accessibility.
Snow says the governor's COVID-19 press conferences, have been a great step forward. Those press conferences are both captioned and have an American Sign Language interpreter.
"I really commend those agencies that have been willing to increase their communication and have been putting Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals as a priority on their list to get out that communication," Snow said.
Steven Stubbs, the man who interprets those press conferences, is deaf himself and is a professor for the interpreting program at Idaho State University.
Deaf Idahoans like Sonny Cabbage say it's a great step.
"That has been wonderful, I don't know that I've ever seen that before locally. That's been a great move," Cabbage said.
Despite the progress, there are still challenges.
Snow says they've also had trouble with feeling connected.
"We've all felt isolated during this time, but we've had a way to communicate with people and many deaf individuals have felt isolated at home and haven't had that communication," said Snow.
Hard of Hearing Idahoans like Marva Kubalik agree.
"A lot of times families and friends give up, leaving the person who is Hard of Hearing even more isolated," Kubalik said. "I would encourage people to keep trying to find a way to keep in touch and that goes back to educating themselves about assistive devices and other ways to communicate even if it is writing notes or holding up signs when visiting through a window or doorway."
Kubalik says deafness is a spectrum--not everyone can hear the same amount, and it looks different for everyone.
"When people say they're hard of hearing, they might be able to function really well and just miss a few things, or they may not be able to hear anything you're saying," Kubalik explained.
Working and learning from home has also been challenging.
"There are many different platforms that schools are using and many of them are not compatible with the use of a sign language interpreter because the video quality isn't good enough," Snow explained. "It may be the audio quality is great, but the video pixels aren't enough that the student is able to see the interpreter."
Masks have also been an obstacle because many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people rely on lip-reading as a form of communication, and also because facial expressions are important in ASL.