It’s a Deaf, Deaf World – Zoom!

Covid-19. There, I said it. It’s like we have not heard enough of it. I am betting that you, like me, are one of those people who are constantly scanning the news via newspaper apps and social media. Looking on in horror as America self destructs. Looking on in hope as cases in Australia continue to decline. Hoping, just hoping that the light at the end of the tunnel will lead to the lift of these damn restrictions. Dreaming for the day we can once again sit in a cafe and not feel guilty for having to pass someone by at arms length in the Supermarket.

Around the world countries have locked down. People are staying home. These lock downs are having a devastating impact. Both economically and socially. Leaving the economic situation aside, I have been fascinated about how the hearing world has responded to social isolation and having to adapt to such.

For us Deafies this is not new. Most of us have hearing families. We have all had to endure those frustrating gatherings where we are there in person but not there really. If you get my gist. We have all endured being the one deaf in the village. Be it at work, education or socially. It is often not fun.

It is tiring. It is often soul destroying. I know that mobile phones have pretty much ended the dinner table conversation for many. But, even with mobile phones people still converse. They talk under their breath about the meme that they have just seen or how Sheryl is upset because no-one liked her photo of yesterday’s dinner. It’s probably worse for people who are deaf because heads are down and people are muttering and distracted. There are very few facial cues too. Often all that the deaf person can do is immerse themselves in their own phone.

That is the lousy thing about technology. As much as it can bring us together, it can also isolate. In years gone by the dinner table was the place where people caught up. They talked about work, the days events, the news, what they heard on the radio and the coming events of the week.

These conversations are largely inaccessible to the deaf family member. It is the same at birthdays, the same at Christmas and other family type events like weddings and funerals. It is common that one person, often the mother, will provide little snippets of what is going on. Despite this, these gatherings can be lonely events. They are often stressful and demoralising. It is not for nothing many Deafies will go out of their way to avoid them.

Yes, its depressing. That is what often happens as the result of this wide spread isolation. Depression and low feelings of self worth. It is not for nothing data abounds that shows Deafies have a higher incidence of mental health conditions than the wider population. It is also not for nothing that we are often tired and exhausted. This is Deaf Fatigue. It is a real thing.

The medical term for Deaf Fatigue is Concentration Fatigue. In simple terms this is when someone has been concentrating hard for so long that they are mentally exhausted. They are often exhausted to the point that they are extremely tired and cannot function or work properly, if at all. In this age of the pandemic, I would hazard to say that Deaf Fatigue is pandemic across the world.

Khaflia (, explains that Deaf Fatigue eventuates because, ” The average deaf person will have to use various attention mechanisms in order to interpret and eventually understand what is said because they have to pay more attention than a person with typical hearing levels because they have to use up more of their brains’ resources when listening and lipreading.”

Deafies know this. At dinner we are catching snippets of conversation and trying to work out what people are saying with less than half of the information that our hearing family members have.  At work we are lipreading people all the time. It can be a colleague seeking assistance or providing information. It can be in a meeting where communication is supported through interpreters. We get the Auslan, translate it to an English equivalent and this means that we are often a few seconds behind everyone else. To contribute and be a valued member of a work team we have to be quick. We often have to stop people mid-sentence to express our views. Repeatedly, we must stop people all talking at once. Sometimes we are so behind and lost that we have to get them to repeat.

More often the Deafie relies totally on lipreading. Sometimes they combine a little bit of residual hearing with lipreading. Some can hear quite a bit, but to make sure they catch everything they have to concentrate to the max. Some are using live captions and, depending on the skill of the captioner, they often get less information than their hearing peers. Consequently, Deafies are constantly filling in the gaps.

These days I am using Live Transcribe. Great technology that is voice to text. I can use it for face to face or even for online meetings. It is surprisingly accurate. But it is phonetic and it can come up with some bizarre phonetic interpretations of what people say. I am still not sure what the supple nipple was referring to.

In the Covid-19 environment I am using it a lot with great success. But, yes it is tiring. To get the feel of a meeting over Zoom I must alternate from the tablet screen to my computer screen. To contribute I often have to talk over people because I cannot hear them. If I say nothing, important considerations might be overlooked. This means that I have to be assertive. I wave frantically at the screen or simply unmute myself and ask to speak. The looks of people when they are cut off can be quite comical. Thankfully, I have an empathetic team who understand my needs.

The point is that it is tiring. It takes a fair bit of skill deciphering what people are saying when you have less information to follow a conversation. It takes assertiveness, alertness and supreme concentration. I am generally known for my humour and adaptability. BUT, make no mistake, it’s draining. At the end of the meeting I am often very, very tired. This is something many Deafies understand but hearing people understand less so.

So, it was with interest this week I read about the relatively new phenomenon of Zoom Fatigue. I even had a little chuckle, as I am sure did many Deafies the world over.

Apparently, this new phenomena of video chats at work and to socialise is tiring people out. The newness of it, the fear of drop outs, the unnaturalness of the sound, the freezing screens and the like are causing tiredness and stress. Video chat, even if you can hear and see fully, is wearing people out.

The blog site, Remote Control, recently published an article on this very topic. The article discusses a number of reasons why people are finding video chats tiring; including:

  1. Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat.
  2. Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” It also makes people uncomfortable.
  3. German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.
  4. When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform.

I have deliberately chosen these points. I have chosen them because they virtually describe me as a deaf person to a tee. I mean obviously, for point 1, Deafies are required to focus way more than their hearing peers to converse. This is probably more so over Zoom.

Silence, all Deafies know this one. We have a paranoia of not knowing who is talking or even if they are talking. This causes us great anxiety.

Delays!! Well, we are used to that. We are often two to three seconds behind any conversation through the use of captioning or interpreting. If we rely on lipreading we miss information too. Particularly when people talk out of our view span. The need to ask people to repeat is embarrassing and causes further delays.

The German academics view is particularly interesting. Why? Well, because Deafies are often very quiet in meetings. This is because they are so fully focused and a little bit behind. I have lost count of the number of times someone has said to me that I needed to be more involved or that I was not part of the team. I am not kidding, this happens. The silence of Deafies is usually because it is very hard to get involved in a world focused on hearing privilege.

The final one, all Deafies know this. Being in a room with a third person, be it a captioner or interpreter, means everyone is looking at you. Interrupting people mid-sentence causes acute embarrassment. The feeling of the need to be part of the group, despite all the barriers, is ever present.

Zoom Fatigue, it’s real. I get it and do not want to underplay it. In this Covid-19 environment people have had to adapt really quickly and they have. But, they are feeling the strain off this new world and the pressures it brings. It is just uncanny how similar it is to the everyday deaf experience.

Here is hoping that at the end of all this people may just understand the challenges of us Deafies a little bit better. Empathy is a great leveller.

Finally, a big thank you to all the essential workers that have kept us safe and ticking over. The doctors, police, nurses, social workers, shop workers waste removalist and the like .. Without them where would we be?

Stay safe people.


2 thoughts on “It’s a Deaf, Deaf World – Zoom!

  1. Interesting article Gary. Zoom fatigue resonates with my most recent Interpreting assignment – a multi-party, multi-mode (hearing, deaf, hearing-blind) Zoom meeting. Once in situ, I needed to cope with the demands of the context with all its moving parts ie., mic on, mic off, whiteboard, screen sharing, unknown speakers, to name just a few. I certainly was not prepared for the dynamic challenge and the wipe out that followed.

  2. Interesting article Gary. Zoom fatigue resonates with my most recent Interpreting assignment- a multi-party, multi-mode (hearing, deaf, hearing-blind) Zoom meeting. Once in situ, I needed to cope with the demands of the context with all its moving parts ie., mic on, mic off, whiteboard, screen sharing, unknown speakers, to name just a few. I was certainly not prepared for the dynamic challenge and the wipe-out that followed.

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