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Stellenbosch University makes Covid-19 information accessible to deaf community

Coronavirus sign

A Stellenbosch University project has made information about Covid-19 available to the South African Deaf community. File picture: IANS

Published Mar 17, 2021


A Stellenbosch University project is aimed at making information about Covid-19 available to the South African deaf community.

The project, initiated by third-generation deaf sisters Vanessa Reyneke and Stephanie Lotz, was launched by the Department of General Linguistics in Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

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This is after they received numerous pleas for accessible information on Covid-19 from members of the deaf community.

Reyneke is the project co-ordinator for South African Sign Language (SALS) Learning and Teaching Support Material at the Department of General Linguistics.

“We’ve heard of cases where Deaf people were doing things that placed their lives and those of others in danger because they were not aware of what the right thing would be to do.

“There were, for instance, cases of Deaf people who tested positive for the virus returning to work, because they did not know about self-isolation.

“This is a great concern to us and something we want to address urgently,” Reneke said.

Covid-19 resources and information are mostly available in written text or spoken format.

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However, spoken language is inaccessible to the majority of Deaf people, and many deaf people struggle to understand written texts.

According to Professor Frenette Southwood of the Department of General Linguistics said their research has shown that there are a limited number of resources about Covid-19 available in SASL compared to the resources available in spoken languages.

“Without translation of important information into the only language fully accessible to them, members of the deaf community are becoming increasingly vulnerable,” she said.

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The linguistic department will use the Western Cape Government’s infographics as background to their SASL video recordings and their written information as a point of departure in their sign language scripts.

“The first information videos have already been released over the last few weeks.

“The aim is to release one information video per week.

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“We have a list of topics that we are going to cover, but we will also be led by the needs of the Deaf community,” said Southwood.

The first phase of the project focuses on the 10 most important subtopics of health and will include tips on keeping coronavirus-safe, advice for diabetics and what to do when you are Covid-19 positive.

“The second phase will include another 10 subtopics or any updates of those subtopics already covered in Phase 1.

“Both of these phases are funded by Stellenbosch University.

“The department is still seeking funding for phases 3 to 6 of the project, as well as for the child-friendly Covid-19 information package that they also plan to make available.

“The ultimate goal is to see that the deaf community has access to all information needed for their daily well-being during this pandemic, and in all varieties of SASL if possible,” Reyneke said.

The Covid-19 information videos are uploaded on a purpose-created YouTube channel for the deaf community to access free of charge and are also available on the websites and other social media platforms of Stellenbosch University.

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