“Lockdown is different for us, people with hearing loss”

COVID-19 (coronavirus) touches the lives of everyone, but not all people are equally affected by the virus or the measures enacted to tackle it. As the UN has recently highlighted, persons with disabilities in particular are disproportionately affected “due to attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that are reproduced in the COVID-19 response.”

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has long worked with people with disabilities in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and refugee camps in Lebanon, taking a rights-based approach to support them to remove barriers to participation in society.

Last Autumn, 24-year-old Ola took part in a participatory photography project with MAP. The project supported people with disabilities to tell their own stories through photography, raising awareness locally and internationally of disability rights and the barriers to them in Gaza. Ola’s photographs emphasised the need for sign language in public spaces.

Last week, we spoke again to Ola to learn more about how coronavirus has exacerbated the barriers she faces in Gaza.

“At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, I was terrified. I did not understand what was happening around me. All the information on the TV and social media was not adapted for people with hearing impairments. I understood from my family that there is a dangerous pandemic and I am not allowed to leave the house at all. I was scared. What if I got the disease? Will I be able to marry my fiancé? Will I get treatment in Gaza, where the health situation is already overwhelmed! The lack of information I received in the beginning increased my anxiety and stress.”

“After a few weeks, some organisations in Gaza, including the Social Developmental Forum (SDF) [MAP’s partner], started publishing videos about the pandemic with sign language translation. I felt more informed and less anxious. However, staying at home for two months drove me insane.

“Lockdown is different for us, people with hearing impairments. We are being forced to stay home, where our families barely speak our language. For me, I felt left out. When my parents spoke to my other siblings, or spoke to each other, I could not understand. I also did not want to burden them with trying to translate everything. Especially as their sign language is not so good. That is why I spent most of my time isolated in my room, and whenever we had electricity I video-called my friends who also have hearing impairments. That is my only enjoyable activity during lockdown. 

“Before the lockdown, I used to go every day to the Nusirat Rehabilitation Centre to meet my friends who speak the same language, to undertake trainings and be part of youth initiatives.  My daily activities in the centre gave my life purpose and filled me with energy and confidence, but now I feel useless as my days and nights are all the same. I wish that Nusirat Rehabilitation Centre would open again, and I wish that people in Gaza would start treating us equally.

“I remember that on one of my last visits to the centre, the driver was unable to understand where I wanted to go, so he took me to an area called Naser, rather than Nusirat. When I refused to get out, he got angry and forced me to pay twice the fee, then he dropped me at the centre. I felt horrible.”

To see the photographs by Ola and the other participants in the photo project, click here.

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