Spotlight is a series of articles focusing on organisations in Wolverhampton working to tackle COVID-19.

In this issue, we spoke to Deirdre Maguire from Zebra Access, a Deaf-led charity dedicated to ensuring that all Deaf and Hard of Hearing people enjoy equal participation and access without communication barriers.

How is COVID particularly affecting the deaf community? What changes would you like to see to help them?

At the moment one of the biggest barriers for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing (HoH) community is access to information/resources in BSL. Currently there is only one hour per day where information is given from the government in BSL on BBC News channel, which means that Deaf/HoH people miss out.

Many might not be aware of the services and support available because of the information not being accessible via BSL or text. We would love to see more people adding captioning to their videos, creating easy to read information and learning BSL during this time!

Deirdre our Youth Development Officer talking about social media

What services are Zebra Access offering right now? How can people access them?

We provide a variety of online services during the lockdown, such as:-

  • General Advocacy services – to help Deaf and HoH people with any benefit queries, forms, employment related queries, complaints and so on. This is available by contacting Craig on - 07472 959315 (SMS, Facetime & Whatsapp) and [email protected] (E-mail & Skype). 
Craig our advocacy officer supporting a client.
  • Community Development - Keeping the Deaf and HoH community updated on news and hosting a weekly quiz, social media updates and support. For more details about this contact Sean - 07472 958534 (SMS, Facetime & Whatsapp) and [email protected] (E-mail).
  • Befriender Scheme - where volunteers can give their time to keep some of the most isolated and lonely deaf people company during this time via video calls, text/video messages and letters.
  • Youth Development - there are a range of BSL activities for young people on our website where they can explore different topics, download word-searches or watch stories being signed in BSL. For more details about this contact Deirdre - 07923 185436 (SMS, Facetime & Whatsapp) and [email protected] (E-mail)
Sean our Community Development Officer talking to volunteers about our befriend project and other volunteering opportunities too.

Additionally we provide free interactive online Deaf Awareness and BSL (British Sign Language) sessions for any of the following:

  • Parents & Carers of Deaf or HoH children, family members or neighbours.
  • Anyone who has recently lost their hearing
  • Anyone working for a charity or non-profit organisation with aim of raising awareness about Deafness and BSL. For these groups we also offer a 6-week interactive BSL course or a one-hour Deaf Awareness training.

Currently the BSL sessions are full but you can book in for the Deaf awareness sessions and register your interest for BSL sessions in the future, email our tutor Dawn - [email protected] or by text - 07729 134155

This information and resources can be found on our website.

What can readers do to help you? Do you need volunteers or donations, or would you like to raise awareness for something?

As Deaf Awareness week happened recently (4th-10th May), here are some facts relating to Deaf/HoH people (mainly due to lack of access to services due to communication barriers and awareness):

  • One in six people in the UK have a hearing loss.
  • Deaf people are three times more likely to suffer mental health related issues, such as depression and anxiety, compared with the UK population.
  • Deaf people are also twice likely to suffer from physical health issues despite smoking and drinking less than the average UK population.
  • Deaf women are twice as likely as their hearing peers to suffer domestic abuse.

Here is a couple of tips when interacting with Deaf/HoH people:

  • Not all deaf people are the same! Some might lipread, some might sign or use both.
  • Don’t panic, if you haven’t met a deaf person before, offer paper & pen if you can.
  • Be patient, We aren’t ignoring you; we just can’t hear/understand you!
  • Don’t assume we have a sign language interpreter with us 24/7
  • DO ask what is the best way of communicating
  • Hearing aids/cochlear implants doesn’t restore full hearing capability so please don’t shout or assume we can hear you clearly.
  • Lipreading isn’t an exact art, we will only understand 30-40% of what is being said- Elephant Shoes can be lipread as I love you!
  • Do not say when trying to communicate - It’s not important, that it doesn’t matter or that you’ll tell them later.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for advice, support or potential partnership.

Equally any donations, no matter how small, would be very gratefully received: