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El Pasoans describe what it’s like to be deaf, blind during pandemic

coronavirus accessibility
George Zavala (left) using his cell phone's speech command. Charles Johnson (right) signing during an interview.

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Navigating life through the coronavirus pandemic has not been easy. The stress and uncertainty is at times amplified for those who identify as deaf or blind.

"When I go to the grocery store, I don’t know what’s in front of me," George Zavala said. There’s a high anxiety especially now with that six feet social-distancing. It brings out anxiety -- unusual anxiety.”

Zavala said under normal circumstances, he's feels comfortable getting around. These of course are not normal circumstances.

"I'm blind and [my hands] are my eyes. If you give me something, I touch it," Zavala said. "Anybody that knows me says 'oh wow George, check this out.' They’ll give it to me and I’ll feel it in my hands.”

That's something that Zavala can't do anymore. He's thankful he lives with his wife who helps him get around, but that's not the case for many in the blind community.

"Someone that’s mobility challenged — blind or somebody who is in a wheelchair — they don’t have a choice," he said. "They usually only go to one store, and hopefully there’s something there for them to buy. If there isn't, it's hard for them to go anywhere else."

Charles Johnson said members of the deaf community have struggled at times to get accurate information.

When the City of El Paso announced its first positive case of Covid-19, it did not provide a sign language interpreter. Other times, the city's interpreter was cropped out of the shot.

"I felt like we were left out, that we’re not important," Johnson said through an interpreter. "We need to know this information too. This is our health as well.”

Johnson filed a complaint. Now, an interpreter is always clearly visual in all of the city's news conferences.

"It’s very dangerous and at the same time, we don’t have that much information," Johnson said.

He's taken it upon himself to, after-the-fact, translate messages or news conferences and post his videos in the "El Paso Deaf Community" Facebook page.

Zavala wants people to just be mindful during this pandemic. If you're posting a picture or graphic on social media, make sure that your post also includes all of the information in text, so that speech-command softwares can then dictate it.

If you're posting a video, be sure to include closed-captioning.

Zavala said these sorts of things can be the difference between life and death during a pandemic.

For more tips on making your social media posts or websites more accessible, click on this guide.

Coronavirus Video / El Paso / News / Top Stories / Video

Mauricio Casillas

El Paso native Mauricio Casillas co-anchors ABC-7’s Good Morning El Paso.


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