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Centre for Deaf studies breaks the silence on COVID-19

- Wits University

The Centre for Deaf Studies (CFDS) at Wits is contributing to society by keeping the Deaf community informed about the coronavirus pandemic.

Thee COVID-19 pandemic has spread at an alarming rate over the past few weeks in the country. To date, over 1400 cases of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in South Africa.

Government, media houses and various institutions have been disseminating important information  and updates with the public around COVID-19 through various platforms.

To ensure that the Deaf community gained access to crucial information on the global pandemic, the CFDS at Wits has been playing an active role through a number of initiatives that filtered information to the Deaf and hard of hearing communities in South Africa.


When the President addressed the nation on 15 March, the CFDS ensured there was a full live stream interpreting by a Deaf person through the use of relay interpreting – a practise of translating messages from one language to another through a third language for a targeted audience.

“Deaf to Deaf communication is the best way of getting such crucial information across,” says Professor Claudine Storbeck, Director for CFDS.

In an effort to raise awareness around COVID-19, the Centre also produced “Corona Info for kids”, an educational video for children teaching them about the deadly virus. The aim of the video was to make information accessible for deaf children in a deaf appropriate way that would make an impact, which also included a fun handwashing-alphabet clip.

In recent weeks, since the coronavirus outbreak in South Africa, CFDS has been offering and sharing information through these videos in South African Sign Language (SASL) to ensure the Deaf Community could access information in their first language.

“In any form of crisis or trauma, people communicate best in their 'mother tongue' and therefore we are making sure that information is available in SASL. ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.’ This quote from Madiba is so appropriate when it comes to including the Deaf community in our planning around this pandemic,” says Storbeck.

While the focus is on the Deaf community, the Centre has added subtitles to the videos to create inclusivity and enable Deaf and hard of hearing people to watch and share these videos with their hearing family and friends. Here is a list of the videos produced by CFDS for the Deaf community:

  1. Coronavirus Information in SASL 
  2. Coronavirus Information for Deaf kids in SASL 
  3. EyeBuzz Kids: Wash Your Hands (A-Z)
  4. Key Highlights: Presidential Address on Coronavirus in SASL 

With a week into the 21-day lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the Centre has cancelled their contact home-based support for families of deaf infants and young children (HI HOPES) and will be offering support via WhatsApp and videos. A five-week online SASL course will be released next week for hearing people wishing to learn about Deaf culture and how to communicate with the South African Deaf community without leaving their homes. A dedicated WhatsApp hotline (074 029 2764) has also been set up for Deaf children and adults to send their questions on the lockdown via either text or video. The hotline can be accessed via WhatsApp. Enquiries: