Covid-19: To help the deaf, Malaysian academics translate screening questions into sign language (VIDEO)

The translations cover questions concerning symptoms, travel history, participation in large gatherings, and contact tracing. — Screengrabs from YouTube/Monash University Malaysia
The translations cover questions concerning symptoms, travel history, participation in large gatherings, and contact tracing. — Screengrabs from YouTube/Monash University Malaysia

PETALING JAYA, Oct 28 — Researchers from Monash University Malaysia have developed sign language translations of Covid-19 screening questions after being inspired by the story of a deaf patient who was infected with the virus.

Uma Devi Palanisamy is an associate professor in the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences who led a team of clinicians, researchers, and students to translate the questions into Malaysian Sign Language or Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM).

She said the Covid-19 screening process can be a daunting affair for deaf individuals as many of them lack accessible healthcare information due to communication barriers.

“The Covid-19 screening process may be isolating and intimidating for deaf patients as they lack accessible Covid-19 healthcare information.  

“Hence, this free-resource tool will ensure that these individuals have equitable access to Covid-19 screening measures in a meaningful and timely manner.”  

The translations, which cover symptoms, travel history, prior participation in large gatherings, and contact tracing, are available as a free-resource tool on Monash University Malaysia’s website.

The project was part of the university’s HEARD (HEAlthcaRe needs of the Deaf) programme which aims to improve communication between healthcare personnel and deaf individuals.

It’s a step forward to ensure that the deaf community does not get left behind in Malaysia’s fight against the pandemic as many deaf individuals face communication challenges when visiting local healthcare facilities.

These communication hurdles can result in errors in diagnosis, management, and treatment.

The sign language translation project was carried out in collaboration with the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf and the Malaysian Sign Language and Deaf Studies Association who helped contextualise and proofread the questions.

Uma added that it was important to collaborate with non-governmental organisations focused on the issues facing the deaf community to ensure that the project met their needs.

The HEARD programme has highlighted that medical terminologies often lack equivalent vocabulary in sign language and that medical interpreter training is non-existent in Malaysia.

Research also showed that most healthcare personnel in Malaysia are ill-prepared to deal with deaf patients due to lack of training.

Sign language translations for Covid-19 screening questions are among the solutions proposed by the HEARD programme to tackle these issues, along with developing the DITE (Deaf In Touch Everywhere) app which will enable users to book an off-site interpreter through secure video conferencing.

The HEARD team is also working on a curriculum on cultural competency for healthcare professionals that will provide guidelines on working with deaf patients.

Related Articles