Gathering experiences of people affected by deafness

Gathering experiences of people affected by deafness

The COVID pandemic has created much uncertainty for people affected by deafness. Gathering people's experiences helped deafscotland to advise policy makers on how to make national responses more inclusive.

The public health measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in deafscotland receiving many emails, text messages, letters and phone calls from people affected by deafness. People wanted information, advice and support to help them cope with the isolation and communication issues they were having to deal with due to physical distancing, self-isolation and the use of face masks.

As lead organisation for deaf issues in Scotland, we wanted to gather the experiences of deaf people across what we call 'the four pillars of deafness':

  • Hard of Hearing
  • Deafblind
  • Deaf/British Sign Language (BSL) Users
  • Deafened

What we did

deafscotland wanted to share deaf people's experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic with the Scottish Government to influence decision-making. To this end, we issued an online survey via SurveyMonkey and held an online meeting via Zoom. The survey and meeting were promoted via social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, as well as email/newsletters via our mailing lists and those of other relevant organisations.

Steps to make the survey accessible and encourage participation included:

  • keeping the survey relatively short
  • writing the survey in plain English
  • including a BSL translation
  • modifying the questions in response to input from the Chief Officer of Deafblind Scotland, acting on behalf of people who use touch to communicate (tactile communication)
  • giving participants the chance to respond by recording video clips in BSL
  • allowing responses by text message

The online meeting for deafscotland members and other stakeholders was held using Zoom, as this was considered the most accessible. An electronic notetaker attended the meeting to type an electronic record of what was being said in real time, allowing participants to follow the conversation. A BSL interpreter also attended the meeting to provide communication support for those who use BSL.

What worked well

The use of online methods allowed people to participate, who may not otherwise have been able to afford to attend a face-to-face meeting. It also allowed us to reach a wide number of people in a short time frame.

Deafblind respondents were also able to participate with support from staff and volunteer guide communicators from Deafblind Scotland, who gathered tactile responses which were then submitted through the survey or separately by email.

For the online meeting, Zoom offered a range of features which made it accessible for a range of people affected by deafness and people identifying as Deafblind (that is, people with both sight and hearing loss):

  • ability to 'pin' a video – enabling participants to keep a sign language interpreter on screen and in view throughout the meeting
  • 'spotlight' - allowing a participant to be viewed as the primary active speaker where appropriate
  • closed captions and the ability to adjust the size of these captions (these can be typed directly onto Zoom or be provided by a third party)
  • support for common screen readers (which convert text to audio) such as NVDA, JAWS, VoiceOver and Android Talkback
  • remote control to allow participants to control the screen sharer’s screen reader
  • adequate colour contrast, size, and use of colour to ensure clarity for users with various vision needs

The views of participants have since been fed into Scottish Government and other appropriate stakeholders. This has led to shifts in policy and guidance around inclusion and adjustments.


Using online methods excluded people who didn't have access to the internet, necessary devices, necessary data/bandwidth and those lacking digital skills, although deafscotland has taken steps to address these issues for its members.

Unfortunately we could not identify one single tool that was accessible for everyone across the public, third and private sector membership. Some public bodies were unable to use Zoom. This could be an issue if we wish to involve them in future discussions with members or provide input for them. Other methods may need to be considered.

An issue identified with Zoom (and other video call platforms) is that content shared through Zoom's 'share screen' function is shown to meeting participants as a live stream and is therefore not readable by screen readers. In order to make the contents of the screen share accessible to those who use screen readers, we had to share the relevant files/information in advance to ensure that the document's full content was preserved and made accessible to screen reader users.

Another issue is that the Zoom application on Mac and Windows only supports the display scaling options provided by your computer. If using a smartphone or tablet, participants can enlarge the screen by either double tapping or pinching the screen. We have submitted feedback to several companies who supply video-call technology to support future improvements.


Janis McDonald (Chief Officer, deafscotland)


Photo credit: Anna Shvets on Pexels

Last Updated: 19 April 2023