PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this country, Cambodian Sign Language interpreters of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme provided interpretation in educational videos created by the Cambodian government.
Viewing the nightly news on TV or social media videos that do not have sign language interpreters leaves deaf people feeling frustrated, left out, confused and anxious, said program staffers. Access to reliable information and pressing new details are crucial to fighting the spread of COVID-19 and helping people to stay calm, gain knowledge on how to protect themselves and finally learn what they can do if they do have the virus. As of April 15, Cambodia had 122 confirmed cases.
“Having accessible information for the deaf has been a new development in Cambodia,” said Keat Sokly, co-director of the Deaf Development Programme. “In the past year, the country’s deaf individuals who understand Cambodian Sign Language have had more access to current events and news reports.”
He credits a push by Prime Minister Hun Sen “to include interpreters for the deaf in TV news programs, where they now appear in the bottom right corner of the screen.”
The Maryknoll program also helped to create a public service video that specifically addresses the deaf population. On April 3, the Cambodian Ministry of Social Affairs, the Department of Welfare of People With Disabilities and the World Health Organization shared the video with essential information related to COVID-19: Knowing the symptoms, how to avoid catching the virus, and what people should do if they think they have the virus.
The most effective and best way to share information in Cambodia is on social media using Facebook, so that the information reaches a high percentage of people all over the country. Even though these specific educational videos have been a big help in spreading information about COVID-19 in the deaf community, there are still other concerns for the safety and health of Cambodia’s deaf citizens.
“The videos are only accessible to those deaf people who have received an education and understand Cambodian Sign Language,” Sokly explained. “There are still a number of deaf people in the country who have not yet been exposed to Cambodian Sign Language and have not received an education.”
These deaf individuals have only limited ways of communicating with their families and still lack basic information about COVID-19, he said.
Sokly also noted that the Deaf Development Programme and its staff are located only in Phnom Penh.
“We are the only organization that provides interpreters for deaf individuals in all of Cambodia. Luckily at this time, we have not yet received any requests for an interpreter to go to the hospital for this virus,” he said.
He also said the program was working with other governmental and nongovernmental agencies on video projects.