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Annabelle Xerri – What have we learnt?

Published 30 Aug 2021

X'tgħallimna mill-Pandemija? Il-pandemija tal-COVID-19 mil-lenti ta' persuni b'dizabilita' u l-familji tagħhom What have we learnt? The COVID_19 pandemic told through the stories of persons with disability

The Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) is launching an exciting new campaign on the lessons learnt from the pandemic in relation to the disability sector. Called ‘X’Tgħallimna mill-Pandemija?’, the campaign gleans the findings and recommendations from a number of reports commissioned by CRPD during or about the COVID-19 pandemic. The reports point out not only how persons with disability were affected by the pandemic itself but perhaps more so by the social and economic impact deriving from restrictive measures put in place to control its spread.

Told through the stories of seven persons with disability, the campaign aims to show that behind every public policy and every public measure, there are persons whose lives can be affected immeasurably, and how persons with a disability cannot be excluded or forgotten, when public decisions are taken.


Annabelle Xerri

As a Deaf person, the wearing of masks has moved socializing with others to an entirely new level - it has become more isolating and more confusing.

FINDING: A major theme that emerged throughout all interviews is the issue of awareness of disability issues.


  • Provide training to management on AGILE decision-making.
  • Provide training opportunities to staff and service providers on how new technologies can be incorporated into service provision.
  • Enhance awareness among decision-makers on the challenges and stereotypes faced by persons with a disability, and their rights.

You can read the following research reports below:


woman sitting down Covid-19 has not been easy on anyone. On top of being a mother of two medically vulnerable girls, being Deaf does not make things easier.

First and foremost, the wearing of a mask has made interaction impossible. I am not against the wearing of a mask, as I understand this is a safety measure. However, Deaf people already find it challenging to lipread when communicating, and with the masks it has become even more difficult than before to participate in conversations. Socializing with others has moved on to an entirely new level – it has become more isolating and more confusing. I do ask people I am communicating with to remove the mask so that I can lipread, whether it is a service provider, a shop owner, a family member, or a friend. However, once they are done talking to me, the mask goes back on – and rightly so. At that point, a world which is full of sound and colour, becomes silent and dark again.

There are many scenarios to take into consideration, such as Deaf students at school. It is already challenging for Deaf students to participate in class conversations or to chat with their peers. Even if the teacher removes the mask or wears a visor, the Deaf student is still unable to follow what the other students are saying.

Having said that, over time we have come to realize that visors and perspex shields are not very Deaf-friendly. Usually, it is important for Deaf people that the speaker is facing the light, and that the light (whether it is coming from a door, a window, or a lamp) is behind the Deaf person. This way, the light is on the speaker’s face and the Deaf person can see the speaker’s face clearly to lipread easily. Otherwise if the light is coming from behind the speaker it casts a shadow on the speaker’s face – making it difficult for the Deaf person to lipread. When the speaker is wearing a visor or is behind a perspex while facing the light, the light reflects on the plastic and the Deaf person cannot see the speaker’s face and lipread.

Virtual meetings and lessons have become the new norm. Lipreading through a screen is impossible, so I always ensure that I have a sign language interpreter booked. Interpreters are booked whether meetings and lessons take place online or in person. Deaf persons can pin the interpreter’s video so that the interpreter can be seen clearly, even if this means that the person speaking cannot be viewed – which can feel quite strange.

woman sitting down

However, online appointments are a further challenge. If my or the interpreter’s video freezes or slows down even if for just one second due to poor internet connection, information is lost and it can become difficult to follow everything that is being said. To make things a tad easier, especially if there are many participants in the virtual meeting, I sometimes use two devices – one device is used to connect with the virtual appointment, and the other device is used to connect via a different software directly with the sign language interpreter, who is also present via both devices. Needless to say, virtual meetings are very exhausting, to say the least.

Finally, I am lucky enough to be able to read press releases issued about press conferences held regarding COVID-19 measures / briefings. However, not all Deaf persons can read and if sign language interpreters are not available to interpret these press conferences, some Deaf persons may not be able to comprehend the new measures and updates. This is a breach of human rights, as Deaf people have a right to access press conferences, especially those of national importance, by having both subtitling and interpreting accessibility.