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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.
Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:
1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically
According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.
“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor
Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:
If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.
If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.
Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:
Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.
Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.
To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.
Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.
Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.
Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.
Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:
2. Focus on your goal
One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.
Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’
Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.
Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.
If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.
3. Convert negativity to positivity
There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?
‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’
It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.
Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”
Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.
Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:
4. Understand your content
Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.
However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.
“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.
Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.
One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.
5. Practice makes perfect
Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.
In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.
Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!
6. Be authentic
There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.
Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.
Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.
To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.
With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.
Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:
7. Post speech evaluation
Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.
Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation
We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.
You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.
Improve your next speech
As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:
How did I do?
Are there any areas for improvement?
Did I sound or look stressed?
Did I stumble on my words? Why?
Was I saying “um” too often?
How was the flow of the speech?
Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.
If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too: