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Dumi Prosphen Okiemute, a member of Association of Lawyers with Disability (ALDIN)

COVID-19: The Right of Deaf People to Access Information

COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge facing the world today. Many people have been infected, including deaf people.

In the fight against the pandemic, deaf people have not been fully carried along, as most information are disseminated orally or in written form.

But, most deaf people, you will agree with me, are not educated enough to understand what is written about the pandemic.

Since deaf persons can be infected and infect others, it follows therefore, that the neglect or failure to accurately inform the deaf persons of the virus is tantamount to endangering the health of the general public.

Dumi Prosphen Okiemute, a member of Association of Lawyers with Disability (ALDIN)

Dumi Prosphen Okiemute, a member of Association of Lawyers with Disability (ALDIN)

It is therefore sensible for the government and well meaning individuals and organisations, to ensure provision is made for deaf people to access information via the language they understand; Sign language, in order to avoid the spread of the virus.

To this end, the World Federation of the Deaf, made some recommendations on how health care cfficials and the television station can make information accessible to the deaf.

According to the World Federation of the Deaf,  accurate public information on the COVID-19 pandemic can be best achieved for deaf people if they are also done in Sign language. More specifically:

  • Public video communications, including press conferences, during the COVID-19 pandemic should be interpreted into Sign language.
  • Public health video materials developed by Health officials, aimed at the public should also be provided in Sign language.
  • Health officials should disseminate guidance to National Health Authorities of the need to make their public health materials and public announcements accessible for deaf people in their National sign languages.

This mandate towards sign language access is part of established international Human Rights Law.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) includes two specific provisions (Articles 9 and 21) obliging States Parties to the Conventions to take appropriate measures enabling persons with disability, including deaf people, are able to participate fully in all aspect of life and have access via Professional Sign language interpreters.

In addition, State Parties must facilitate the use of Sign language in official interactions to ensure equal access to information for deaf people.

Our own Nigeria Disability law, Discrimination Against persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act, 2018, Section 24, provide that Health Authorities should make special provision for special communications in Hospital for persons with communication disability.

The World Federation of the deaf, also, provided guidelines for Television Stations to provide access to health information in Sign language for deaf people. The guidelines are as follows:

  1. In all situations, it is critical that professional sign language interpreters or translators with national-level qualifications are hired.
  2. Information should be available through all media channels and on all platforms. If the sign language version is only available through some channels (i.e. narrow-cast), or only through web-based platforms, there is a risk that deaf people will miss out on crucial updates at critical times.
  3. An interpreter should be physically present and visible on camera alongside whomever is speaking in making new announcements. This will ensure deaf people can access information through a variety of media outlets as other members of the public do.

 Outline of Best Practices For Providing Sign language Access In Different Contexts.

National press conference or emergency information broadcast with interpreter present:

  1. The sign language interpreter should be physically present (to the extent possible) and stand next to the speaker facing the audience and in shot. This ensures multi-platform and multi-channel access to the interpreter.
  2. The interpreter should be displayed in the full screen image at all times, with no text or graphics covering the interpreter.
  3. Broadcasts may be multi platform but should always be broadcast on the main public TV channels to ensure easy access for a wide audience.

Live (Special) News broadcasts with interpreter in studio:

  1. Positioning and size of the interpreter:
  2. Preferred: on screen placement of the interpreter (using chromakey/green screen), size of interpreter inset should at least be half of the screen.
  3. Alternative: interpreter is placed in a box filling 25%of the screen, separate from the actual image of the screen.
  4. Broadcasts should be multi-platform but should always at least be provided on the main public TV channels to ensure easy access for a wide audience.

Live Ministerial Announcements

Sign language interpreters often cannot be present on the floor of parliamentary bodies when Ministers make announcements about updates.

In that case, the principles for live news broadcasts should be used, with the interpreter live streamed simultaneously on-screen alongside the speaker. This is often broadcast through a parliamentary web-based platform

Video Coverage

  1. It is the responsibility of public authorities to ensure that Information on the Coronavirus is made available directly in the national sign language(s) of the country, preferably created in that sign language (rather than a translation from a written or spoken text).
  2. National deaf associations should be contacted for their expertise and guidance in developing these videos.
  3. Best practice is for a deaf presenter to present information on the virus and safety measures, so that the information is presented by a native user of the national sign language.
  4. These videos should be published on the national and public health websites alongside other public information on the Coronavirus.
  5. Videos should also be subtitled in the country’s national language(s).
  6. Visual images should be used wherever possible to support the information.
  7. Add information on how deaf persons can access the national or local health authorities either directly in sign language, or through emergency face-to-face or online interpreting services, in case of further questions.

These Guidelines are also applicable to non-governmental and international organisations disseminating information on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

National sign languages should be used as a first priority, with International Sign information for international organisations targeting a global audience.

In Conclusion, Human Rights are rights people enjoy simple because they are human beings.

The Deaf people are human beings with equal rights as hearing people to have access to information, via Sign Language, especially, during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Which in turn, will protect their Fundamental Human Rights to life and  to the dignity of the human person.


This article is written by Dumi Prosphen Okiemute, a member of Association of Lawyers with Disability (ALDIN), supported by Disability Right Fund (DRF).

Further information on Best Practices can be found at http://wfdeaf.org/coronavirus

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