Kerala govt. urged to re-introduce news bulletins in sign languages for information on COVID-19

Activists claim that news channels have been skipping such bulletins for months citing shortage of sign language interpreters and technical difficulties

Finding it difficult to access credible information on the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures in place to fight it, a section of aurally challenged persons in Kerala has appealed to the State government to facilitate the re-introduction of news bulletins in sign languages that were suspended by various Malayalam news channels.

Activists working towards the empowerment of the aurally challenged claim that news channels have been skipping such bulletins for months citing shortage of sign language interpreters amidst the COVID-19 scare and other related technical difficulties. It is hardly a justifiable reason for about one lakh community members in Kerala, they feel.

Suneer Parambil, one of the activists who recently took up the issue with the authorities, points out that many aurally challenged persons in the State face difficulties in reading and understanding the latest news developments on their own. “At present, they depend on the service of their expert friends who prepare the sign language interpretations of major news items and send them through WhatsApp,” he says.

Tackling fake information

Professional trainers in the field say perhaps the biggest challenge the aurally challenged now face is countering the circulation of fake information in the absence of credible sign language interpretations. There are even suspected attempts to misinterpret important Malayalam news items about COVID-19 and vaccination process using sign language to confuse or mislead the community, they reveal.

A Kozhikode-based activist in the field says the aurally challenged are helpless to understand even the Chief Minister’s daily press meet or other social media messages prepared by the government for public awareness. “Is it such a difficult task for the government to appoint a sign language interpreter at this crucial time?” he asks.

The inability to access the available telemedicine services controlled by government doctors has also aggravated the struggle. The affected say that no one has even thought of finding another convenient option. Same is the case with scientific panel discussions in televisions and social media posts on health issues, which cannot be understood without the support of sign language experts, they say.

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