Deaf children are not being diagnosed early enough since babies are not screened for hearing impairments before they leave hospital, according to the Deaf People Association.

We can do everything except hear

“Unfortunately, months and even years pass before parents realise their child has a hearing difficulty… Another factor is the exaggerated delay for an appointment to be set for a hearing test,” secretary George Vella said, adding that appointments were scheduled some six to eight months after the child was referred to the State hospital.

Something had to be done to address this as a child’s early years were crucial in their language and communication development, he said.

Mr Vella made these observations in a letter sent recently to Health Minister Joe Cassar in which he said the association was declaring that the services offered to deaf people were not comprehensive.

The association had flagged these issues before but nothing had been done, he said.

He said deaf people often had to visit the hospital’s ENT (ear, nose and throat) section where they encountered communication barriers. It was important that staff there were better trained about the needs of deaf people and could communicate, on a basic level, through sign language.

When it came to more serious ailments, the Government should appoint an interpreter to ensure the deaf patient was kept informed about his health, as was his fundamental right.

Mr Vella also called on the authorities to ensure that hearing aids, among others, were provided to all deaf people and that their quality was improved and delays tackled.

Last month the association organised Deaf Week that involved a series of activities to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the deaf community in Malta.

There are about 400 deaf people on the island but only about 100 of them use sign language.

The association has long been fighting for the Government to officially recognise Maltese sign language as a legitimate language as that would open the door to more inclusion and would also help with the interpreter shortage.

There are only three interpreters in Maltese sign language and they have to cope with the needs of all the deaf community. There was a pressing need for more interpreters who would help the deaf gain better access to services, he said.

This highlighted that the deaf were often discriminated against on a communication level as not enough effort was put into ensuring they were kept in the loop. The lack of accessible subtitles was just one other example, he said.

“We can do everything except hear,” Mr Vella said, calling for more respect towards the deaf.

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