Silent Voice a hub for deaf community

By 
  • May 10, 2020

A modest Catholic agency that serves the deaf and their families has landed at the centre of efforts to keep deaf people across Canada informed and connected during the COVID-19 crisis.

Silent Voice is fielding hundreds of calls, producing dozens of videos for their website and social media feeds, connecting people with health care professionals, explaining government emergency relief programs and helping parents homeschool deaf children as their tiny budget disappears under the pressure of increased demand for services and diminished charitable giving.

Other agencies that serve the deaf have been referring clients to the Silent Voice website for up-to-date information about COVID-19, said executive director Kelly MacKenzie.

“Our in-house person who is technically inclined is just being hijacked to do this,” she said.

Donald Prong, executive director of the Ontario Association for the Deaf, calls the Silent Voice website vital. “Their ongoing information on COVID-19 is a huge part of deaf community, ensuring that we have details on the pandemic,” he said.

“I am very proud of Silent Voice,” Prong told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “For their thoughtfulness and caring for our community, to ensure that we are well informed and to minimize the number of people falling in the cracks or service gaps.” 

The COVID-19 section of Silent Voice’s website (silentvoice.ca) has been opened to Ontario’s eight other deaf community agencies, and they’ve been posting their COVID-19 information to the Silent Voice site. 

This role as unofficial hub for deaf community information about the pandemic is new, essential and entirely unfunded, said MacKenzie. The deaf are “some of the most marginalized, isolated and overlooked during this crisis,” she said.

MacKenzie estimates that the workload at Silent Voice has doubled because of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders. A lot of the Toronto agency’s work is with hearing parents who struggle to understand and communicate with their deaf children. The majority of families with a deaf child do not regularly use sign language at home. 

Using deaf people whose first language is ASL, Silent Voice has been producing simple, plain-language summaries of COVID-19 news and information. Other videos concentrate on the practicalities of living under COVID-19 restrictions with tips for how to talk to children who are anxious about the disease or how to spot scams and fake cures.

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