Israel's Health Ministry on Tuesday launched a new service that allows those who are deaf or suffer from hearing impairment to communicate with medical staff using an on-call sign language translator.
The pilot, dubbed "Kol Briut" (the voice of health, in Hebrew), allows real-time video calls with sign language interpreters via the Israeli-made SignNow app. The service enables simultaneous translation into sign language for the purpose of receiving medical attention. All the app users have to do to access the service is locate it on the Health Ministry's website, and then within a few minutes a representative will contact the customer and direct him to the designated specialist.
A feeling of contempt
Guy Banai and his wife are both deaf. They said their disability was especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic because the system was not tailored to their needs.
"Me, my wife and one of my kids were infected with COVID in March 2020," says Guy Banai, a deaf 60-year-old Ashkelon resident. "The communication was difficult. There was no option to sent an SMS or WhatsApp messages, we didn't understand what they were saying to us because of the masks."
Unfortunately, Banai's struggle with the healthcare system is common amongst many others suffering from hearing impairment.
Natalie Dahan, deaf from birth, shared that often times the communication barriers yield impatience and contempt.
"Less than a year ago, I was hurt in a car accident. I was physically, emotionally, and mentally overwhelmed, from horrible pains that got worse with time," she recalled. "The doctor was supposed to explain to me what was going on, and though he greeted me nicely in the beginning, he very quickly grew impatient."
Dahan, and the Bani couple are three of the some 15 thousand deaf people who communicate using sign language in Israel. While solutions to their struggles do exist, many of them are costly and not easily accessible.
Hila Almog, responsible for the Kol Briut initiative, heard of Dahan's case and contacted her to tell her about the new service the Health Ministry was offering.
"I've always been skeptic regarding changed in the system by we are in 2022 and it is absurd," said Dahan, adding she is frustrated that only now a service like this is being offered. "All we want is to live like human beings and get what we deserve."
"Today the answer is simple. The new app and the improved server make a significant difference," said the call center manager of Kol Briut- Tali Dahan.
"With the prior application, the number of calls was about ten per month. With the new service, the number of calls jumped to about a thousand calls in three months."