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Communication Supports in the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Information and Communications Standards of the AODA state that organizations must create, provide, and receive information and communications that people with disabilities can access. This mandate includes the need to provide communication supports. Communication supports are ways for people to access verbal or audio information visually. When people think of communication supports, they may picture supports for in-person communication, such as American Sign language interpretation at live events. However, there are many other ways to make communication accessible both in-person and remotely. As a result, organizations should commit to making information available with communication supports in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Communication Supports in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sign Language

English-Canadians who are Deaf often use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a visual language. Signers convey meaning through handshapes, movements, and facial expressions. ASL is a complete language with its own grammar.

Many people identify ASL as their first language and learn English as a second language. They may communicate with non-signers through Sign language interpretation. A professionally trained interpreter relays information between signers and non-signers.

Video Relay Service

Interpretation often takes place in person. However, Video relay service (VRS) now allows people to communicate in Sign language remotely using smartphones or computers connected to the Internet. People can communicate with other Signers, or connect with an interpreter in order to communicate with non-signers. As a result, technology has made interpretation easier to access than ever before.


Teletypewriters (TTYs) are devices that carry typed conversation over telephone lines. People type their side of a conversation on a keyboard and read the other side of the conversation on a screen. People can converse with non-TTY users through relay operators.


Other people who are deaf communicate by speaking, and follow the other side of the conversation by speechreading, sometimes called lip reading. People who speechread understand speech through people’s facial movements and expressions, body language, and context. Speakers on video-calls or conferences should ensure that speechreaders can see them clearly.

Captions and Text Transcripts

Captions are displays of text that reproduces or describes audio elements of videos, presentations, or performances. Video producers can caption content when they make it, or add captions later. People attending events, such as meetings, may use real-Time Captioning (RTC). A trained captioner records speech and it appears almost right away on a large screen. If RTC is not available for an event, a typist can summarize key points. This process is called computerized note-taking.

There are still communication barriers to overcome. For example, the masks that people now need to wear make reading facial expressions difficult or impossible. As a result, it is difficult for people to communicate with medical or other staff who must wear masks. However, one student is designing partially transparent masks to remove this barrier.

In addition, there are not enough communication supports available for people to fully access all the information they need. Shortages of trained ASL interpreters, captioners, or note-takers mean that many people must carefully choose the times when they most need those supports and do without them at all other times. Therefore, organizations should find a variety of ways to ensure that all people have access to communication. For instance, organizations can communicate with customers by text or email, upon request. There are many ways that organizations can present information using communication supports in the COVID-19 pandemic.