KERN COUNTY — This month marks the thirty year anniversary for the Americans With Disabilities Act, and COVID-19 has changed the way its resources are offered. The Independent Living Center of Kern County usually offers in-person interpreting services for the deaf and hard of hearing community, but the pandemic has forced them to now do so online.
“Having to limit the in-person work that we do has been a huge impact in terms of the services that people, that the deaf community, can get,” said Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Provider Alexandra Leyza.
While virtual resources aren’t an issue for most, they aren’t realistically accessible for everyone.
“Maybe the individual, on top of being deaf or hard of hearing... They may also have some visual difficulty in which case zoom isn’t going to be the most helpful,” Leyza said.
In this case, in-person interpreting can happen with social distancing and face masks. There is a problem caused by our face masks though. When people’s faces are half-covered, it is difficult for the deaf and hard of hearing community to know if someone is talking to them.
“Grammar, adjectives, adverbs, tone, inflection… all of those things are on our face,” Leyza said.
Clear face masks have been made, but Leyza says the plastic makes it hard to breathe.
“They’re a little tricky to use but once you get used to them are very helpful,” Leyza said.
American Sign Language interpreter Stephanie Smart says she’s thankful for the opportunities technology offers during this time.
“It is incredible to have technology now to be able to do that when twenty, thirty years ago, you know, there was no way to provide that type of access,” said Smart.
And at the end of the day, smart is just glad she can still support the deaf and hard of hearing community.
“It’s been interesting. It’s been a learning curve. I’m happy that we have these options to still provide accessibility," said Smart.