The Covid-19 pandemic has brought in many discomforts to the general public, and its effect on the hearing-impaired community has been manifold. Many of them are left with very few authentic sources of information on the virus. In this context, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has uploaded a course on ‘Introduction to Covid-19’, in Indian Sign Language (ISL), ensuring accessibility to the deaf community. The course is available on the Massive Open Online Course platform of WHO (OpenWHO).
This was done with the help offered by B.S. Vinayachandran, a professional sign language interpreter based in Thiruvananthapuram,
Vinayachandran interacted with the hearing impaired community during the pandemic, and one of the issues all of them flagged was the lack of access to reliable information on COVID-19. With their dependence on sign language, much of the information available were beyond their reach.
After unsuccessfully knocking on many doors, Mr. Vinayachandran decided to write to the World Health Organization (WHO) some weeks ago. The same night came the enthusiastic reply from the learning and capacity building team, requesting him to make the sign language version of a WHO video on COVID-19.
The video, now among the courses offered on the WHO’s openwho.org website, has also been chosen by the Union government’s Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) as one of its 10 annual certification courses. Two more of his sign language videos of the COVID-19 series will soon be uploaded on the website.
“India has around 1.8 million hearing impaired people, who often fall prey to misinformation during situations like this. So they need resources like this. I got my photographer and editor friends to shoot and edit my sign language video. Another friend, a Hindi teacher, also dubbed the text in Hindi so that the content would be accessible to a large number of people in North India. The response has been overwhelming, with close to 50,000 views till now,” says Mr. Vinayachandran.
He says the WHO team has been involved in every stage of the process, constantly consulting him or providing suggestions. The RCI, under the Union Ministry of Social Justice, has included the course as one of the 10 courses for professionals in the field.
Rehabilitation professionals have to secure 50 credit points for annual renewal of registration, won through paper presentations and attending seminars. The RCI has now decided to award five points to those attending one such online course, considering the pandemic situation.
“It is great that WHO is giving attention to more inclusive content. It could inspire others to replicate, reducing the communication barriers. The presence of Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan and Union Minister Harsh Vardhan as the Executive Board Chairman in WHO will also hopefully pave the way for such content with focus on India too,” says Mr. Vinayachandran.