Situation of COVID-19 in Japan
While COVID-19 is spreading throughout the world, I, Ota, chair of the International Committee, will like to report on behalf of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf to our Deaf friends around the world about the current situation of Japanese Deaf.
In Japan, in order to control the further spread of coronavirus infection, the state of emergency was first declared on April 7th, then canceled on May 25th.
During the state of emergency declaration, there was no place for deaf children to study using sign language because the deaf schools were shut down. Furthermore, most online teaching materials did not have subtitles or sign language. As for deaf adults, many companies started to utilize remote work. That made it difficult for deaf employees to understand what was going on in online meetings. Also, people needed to wear masks making it more difficult to communicate with the hearing. Many Deaf suffered whether it was okay to ask someone to take off their mask or to ask for an interpreter who may get exposed to the disease.
Currently, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has indicated to follow the “new lifestyle” which consists of maintaining social distance, gargling, washing hands, measuring temperature, ventilation, and wearing a mask.
On the other hand, until now, only the press conferences of the Prime Minister’s Office provided sign language interpretation. Now, thanks to the efforts of the local Deaf associations and interpreter groups, all press conferences of the prefectural governors also provide sign language interpretation. It became a popular topic of conversation, that sign language interpreters were not wearing a mask at those press conferences. Then, people gradually recognized that Deaf people needed to watch the movements of the mouth to understand sign language. This public awareness grew and led to unique developments such as transparent masks. At current press conferences, face shields are used to protect the lives of the sign language interpreters and other participants.
All events of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf have been canceled this year. Accordingly, a new headquarter called the Coronavirus Crisis Management Headquarters has been set up to cope with this serious issue. It is responsible to provide information on COVID-19 in sign language, provide online consultation in sign language, requesting the inclusion of sign language and captions in online lectures, and requesting each ministry to provide sign language and captions in videos that they make regarding anti-corona virus. As a result, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has provided a budget for the prevention of infection to sign language interpreters and the development of remote video relay sign language services.
In addition, regional Deaf associations and Information services facility for persons with hearing disabilities also provide sign language interpretation at local government press conferences, produce videos in sign language for the application of government benefits, and send support messages in sign language to fellow citizens. We are all fighting against the coronavirus together.
Let’s work harder together as members of the World Federation of the Deaf!