From the Commissioner - We are all in this together
Throughout the COVID-19 experience I am sure you have all heard the phrase, ‘we are all in this together’.
It is a statement that indicates social cohesion, a level playing field and a statement, as Commissioner for Equal Opportunity in Western Australia, that has my full support.
However, in times of disaster do we really support all or just the majority, the people most like us, and do we look for targets to channel our fear?
It saddens me to receive enquiries and complaints and see reports in the media that people from Australia’s Chinese community are being targeted. Why, when they have suffered at the hands of this virus just as everyone else?
Racism will not stop people from getting sick and it will not improve the economy, it will only contribute to social dysfunction.
I am also concerned about those putting procedures in place to best protect the majority against COVID-19, while already vulnerable minority groups are unable to access proper assistance.
For people with a hearing impairment being able to access vital information has been difficult.
A big issue for many with a hearing impairment is communicating with frontline health workers who wear facemasks, as facemasks block out more than germs.
People who have substantial hearing loss use lip reading and facial expression to support their understanding of what is being said.
For those with lesser levels of hearing loss, not seeing someone’s mouth impacts on their ‘hearing’ and comprehension.
There are surgical masks on the market that have a clear panel that allow the wearers’ mouth to be seen, which seem like an excellent solution for those who rely on lipreading.
In these times, when face to face health consultations are being replaced by telephone and video calls, health professionals organising those calls must make sure they are able to communicate by text, use the National Relay Service, caption video calls or augment them with the use of an interpreter for people who rely on Auslan.
The same must be said for official announcements in the media. It has been encouraging to see the use of Auslan interpreters for Government announcements; however, on so many occasions the interpreter is a distant figure in the screen and the signing could not be followed on anything less than a large home TV screen.
It is estimated that more than 1.2 million Australians rely on captions every day.
Captions are also important for people with English as a second language, children with learning difficulties, older people who may use hearing aids or cochlear implants and people who have no aided support to assist with their hearing.
Captions are vital aids for these people trying to access important information away from home, such as in airports, hospital waiting rooms and hotels.
The peak national organisation, Deafness Forum, is advocating for emergency announcements to be ‘open captions’ and not ‘closed captions.’
Open Captions are a permanent feature of a video, so you cannot switch them off and they will appear in any replays or simultaneous transmissions on social media.
Closed captions are not as effective because not everyone has a television that will broadcast closed captions, or the understanding of how to activate closed captions.
Another vulnerable group is the elderly.
The Australian Council of Human Rights Authorities issued a communique reporting our elderly community is being targeted by COVID-19 scammers and suffering elder abuse at the hands of family members desperate for access to assets during the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.
Support for this cohort needs to be put in place so that they are not targeted by opportunistic businesses or relatives.
Although the COVID-19 virus can strike anyone, it will impact on the most vulnerable severely, whether that be physically or emotionally.
Please keep this in mind when you hear the phrase, ‘we are all in this together’.