COVID-19 Communication Guidelines
The Helen Keller National Center has been hearing from folks across the country regarding their perspectives, recommendations and inquiries on how to best adjust and accommodate one another and the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The community of individuals who are deaf-blind or have combined vison and hearing loss is very diverse and there are no “one-size fits all” options for communication. HKNC has compiled information from a variety of sources including members of the HKNC National Community of Practice SSP committee, and the NJ Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as well as HKNC staff for contributing to this guidance.
COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE DEAF-BLIND DURING A CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
The COVID-19 Pandemic has led to necessary “social distancing” for everyone. Keeping a safe distance (6 feet is suggested) from other people is key to the elimination of the virus according to the experts. For people who are deaf-blind, this is not often an option as many people use a tactile form of communication, such as Tactile ASL, as a main method of receiving information. Others, depending on the type of vision loss, may depend on a close signing environment.
SUGGESTED OPTIONS FOR COMMUNICATING SAFELY IN A MEDICAL ENVIRONMENT:
Be prepared with an option that can facilitate the exchange of important information with a medical professional. This information can include;
- Date of birth
- Emergency contact - family or friends phone contacts
- Pre-existing medical conditions
Other items you may want to have available and bring with you in a bag:
- pens, markers and paper
- cords and chargers, extension cord
- phone, tablets, laptops
- cellular hotspots in case facility wi-fi is not reliable
- prescription glasses, magnifier, portable CCTV like Ruby
- portable braille device
- extra batteries for your hearing aids
Suggested Options for Communication
- Tactile ASL - Both communication parties should be wearing gloves. To safely remove gloves peel them off inside out and dispose in separate bag and then garbage container. Do not touch face. Support one another during the interaction not to touch your face. If available it would be best to wear face masks. Dispose of the masks after use.
- Close Vision sign- using a mask for both communication partners may be necessary, it may be beneficial to use alternative options if possible for communication: writing, text, email, FaceTime, some CCTVs that attach to a laptop can be used to zoom in on the communication partner, zooming with an iOS device.
- Communication Cards - Pre-made communication cards can be used to assist in interacting with the general public as well as medical personnel. Spanish and English communication cards are available and have been shared with HKNC from the NJ Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to assist medical workers if the person is sick. Click this link download your copy in English or Spanish. (These are also provided at the bottom of this page.) Other options to create your own communication cards or to download samples from HKNC, scroll to the bottom of the page for WORD documents.
- Technology and APPS - An iOs device with a braille display, screen reader or low vision enhancements such as high contrast or enlarged print can be used to email and/or text messages with family, friends, medical professionals, SSPs, or others. For a list of helpful apps, follow this link to the TDI website: https://tinyurl.com/ssnmky4
- Print on Palm – Print capital letters in the palm of the person’s hand. Both parties should be wearing gloves. To safely remove gloves, peel them off inside out and dispose in the garbage.
- Assistive Listening Devices – A deaf-blind person should have a pre-made card describing how to use the microphone of an assistive device. Wipe down microphone and receiver regularly with sanitized wipes.
WORKING WITH SUPPORT SERVICE PROVIDERS (SSPS)
- Screen an SSP before the interaction. Ask them four questions via email, VP, phone, or text:
- Have you been traveling recently?
- Are you feeling sick or have any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 2 weeks?
- Are your family members or people you live with sick?
- Are there best ways that we can work together to both be safe?
- If the SSP agency is still serving deaf-blind individuals during the COVID-19 epidemic, the SSPs will most likely ask you the same questions.
- Let SSPs know that if at any time during the interaction they feel unsafe they can suspend the service. You have a right to suspend the service if you feel unsafe as well.
- Limit outings with SSPs to necessary options such as grocery shopping. Have a list prepared ahead of time that you can share with the SSP via phone, VP, text or email if possible.
- SSPs should wear gloves or other protective gear. You may want to wear gloves or other gear also.
- Avoid touching surfaces while navigating in different environments as much as possible if gloves are not available.
- If an SSP or person receiving SSP services have traveled in the community using public transportation, change clothes prior to interaction if possible Clothes will be touched during guiding, signing and interacting so they should be put in a washing machine when returning home or placed in a bag for washing at a later time.