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Here’s Why Deaf People Hate the Medical Community

Here’s Why Deaf People Hate the Medical Community

Time after time I’ve read posts or watched vlogs of horror stories from Deaf and Hard of Hearing people dealing with doctor offices and hospital visits.

I’ve experienced many of these first-hand myself. It happens so often that I’m spurred to write this article to educate the medical community on what you need to know about your Deaf patients.

First, I’m primarily focusing on the “Deaf” community, those who are likely to have American Sign Language (ASL) as their first language, may not be fluent in English, and believe they are not “broken” and don’t need to be fixed by the medical community. This is the group that struggles against communication and accessibility barriers in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and in daily dealings with the public.

To ease this tension and foster a good doctor-patient relationship, you need to understand the following points:

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A Certified Interpreter is Vital

As I mentioned earlier, ASL is our first language and easiest for us to comprehend and communicate in. ASL is not a “translation” of English, it has its own grammar, syntax and rules. It uses the full range of hand movements, facial expressions, and body language to convey the message.

Because of the complexity of medical terminology, the gravity of the medical visit, the condition the patient may be in, and the need for clear communication – a Certified interpreter is required. There’s a huge difference between a certified interpreter who understands and can relay medical issues and someone who “knows how to sign”.

For example, a cardiologist hired an ASL student for a Deaf patient’s visit. The student struggled to come up with the right sign for certain words and the signing was not “smooth”, akin to someone pausing and saying “Ummm” a lot. The student signed to the Deaf patient “You have Heart Pain” to which the Deaf patient denied repeatedly. After several frustrated attempts back and forth it was understood that the doctor really said “You have Heartburn”. The Deaf patient gave up, wrote to the Doctor “I’m leaving! I’ll come back when you get a proper interpreter!”

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is not Accessible

Many hospital and large medical offices are relying on VRI, which is a laptop or monitor connected by Wi-Fi to an interpreter located off site. As cost effective this may be on administrative paper, it is not an accessible or effective means of communication for Deaf patients.

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As a matter of fact, we HATE it!

Forget the fact it takes forever to sign in, enter hospital name, department number, hospital floor, head nurse name, room number and patient name and account number, etcetera.

It uses the hospital’s Wi-Fi connection, which as many patients know, is very slow, frequently drops out, and requires frequent sign-ins. Then there’s the problem with viewing:

  • the screens are clumsy to position
  • it’s sometimes hard to see the screen from where we’re laying in the bed
  • the interpreter may not be able to see the Deaf patient or their Deaf family members
  • because of the Wi-Fi connection, there are frequent screen freezes so there are a lot of words missed
  • and lastly there are those who also have vision problems, or are deafblind, who prefer tactile sign language, rather than straining to see a flat screen.

This humorous clip demonstrates the frustrations of VRI.

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Stop Assuming We Are Mentally Deficient

Just because they are Deaf doesn’t mean they can’t grasp what you’re explaining to them. A missing sense doesn’t translate into missing brain functioning.

I have met countless of doctors, nurses and other professionals who upon learning that I’m Deaf and legally blind, automatically assume I’m incapable of daily self-care; then they’re surprised I actually have a Bachelor’s degree, married with children and independent and don’t need a “caretaker”.

We are fully capable of understanding you, and are able to participate in health decisions once the proper communication method is in place: which is an interpreter. Writing back and forth and lipreading is a lot less efficient than doctors realize.

Don’t Question Our Deafness

Many Deaf patients feel frustrated at doctors insisting on questioning them about the cause of their deafness when it’s irrelevant to the medical visit. Don’t ask why they do or don’t wear hearing aids or get cochlear implants.

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Like I said earlier, Deaf people feel that they’re not broken; they concentrate on what they can do with their rich culture just like anyone else, instead of concentrating on hearing, speaking, and assimilating into the “hearing” world.

Don’t Be Dismissive

Many Deaf parents, like myself, are frustrated by the dismissive attitude of doctors and nurses when they bring their children in for appointments or to the ER. The medical staff starts communicating with the child and don’t address the parent at all.

This may seem easier to deal with, but the child is still a child and do not understand the complexity of their medical needs. Children also don’t relay the full information back to their Deaf parents either which is also why you shouldn’t use them as interpreters as well.

Because of these frustrating experiences by Deaf patients, they tend to avoid seeking medical treatment, skip regular checkups and have an overall mistrust of the medical community.

So to better serve your Deaf patients and avoid costly lawsuits, it would be a good idea to simply use common sense, drop the stereotypical assumptions, and follow these simple tips.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay.com via pixabay.com

More by this author

Tracy Stine

ASL Tutor, Freelance writer & Blogger

Here’s Why Deaf People Hate the Medical Community

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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