Interpreting a pandemic

10 December 2020

Scottish Minority Ethnic Deaf Club (SEMDC) has members across Scotland and provides a variety of services ranging from a bi-weekly support group to providing bespoke advocacy, advice, signposting and information in accessible sign languages.

It is funded by the Trust through Active Communities for its Gathering Again project which provides volunteering opportunities for members of SEMDC who are often extremely isolated due to language and communication barriers. Social connections and collective control are critical foundations to good health, and we recognise that particular groups with protected characteristics face additional barriers to good health due to inequalities.

Volunteers benefit from training and support, so they are equipped to lead peer to peer workshops on a range of topics from creative arts to confidence building and assertiveness.

As one volunteer explained “The workshops support deaf people who are isolated and have mental health issues. The members can work together and plan activities. Becoming a volunteer builds up confidence and self-esteem and can lessen depression, especially at the moment when we have a world pandemic.”

The pandemic has of course had a huge impact on their work. Back in March, SEMDC had to quickly adapt and work on innovative ideas to engage with what already is an often extremely isolated and marginalised community.

SMEDC project members

As Project Manager Tasnim Sharif explains “Ensuring people have access to information not only in BSL, but in other native or bespoke sign languages is always our priority, but especially throughout the pandemic. Often, members of our community are unable to communicate with their own family so during lockdown it was paramount that SEMDC continued to reach out and support this community.”

Like many charities, SEMDC moved workshops and activities online, and put others on hold. This has included hosting bi-weekly Zoom meetings for members and posting accessible information videos on Facebook and providing one to one face time for the community with updates on the pandemic and other support information.

Tasnim said “A large proportion of the Deaf ethnic minority Community do not understand information given by the media regarding the pandemic. Our asylum seekers and refugees, for example, do not understand BSL and require our staff to relay information both through international sign and deaf grass roots translation.” There are huge challenges however, and the charity has noticed a decline in some members mental health, confidence and independence, brought about by fear of the virus, and misunderstanding or a lack of accessible information”.

Despite the challenges, the workshops are clearly having a hugely positive impact. One member said “The workshops are so good. Being involved and learning new skills makes me so happy. I have learnt to make beautiful things at the workshops which has improved my confidence and made me feel more positive.  Things have been difficult during Covid and Zoom can be difficult for Deaf people but as I am a volunteer member, I am encouraging all the members to join in because I know they can be very isolated and the workshops will really help to support them.”

Another said: “I am new to SEMDC and don’t live in Glasgow so the online workshops have been a real bonus to me.  I am so happy to meet new friends who I can communicate with. At home I am lonely but now I really look forward to joining in the workshops.”

To read more news from the Trust, click here.

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