EMPOWERING PARTNERSHIPS THROUGH EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATIONS
SignNexus sets the standard for excellence and efficiency when accommodating the diverse communication and cultural needs of individuals who are Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing.
SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETING
SignNexus is a distinguished interpreting agency that specializes in American Sign Language, International Sign, and other sign language modalities. On-site and Remote Sign Language Interpreting Services are available to help organizations fulfill their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
SignNexus offers Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services, also known as Realtime Captioning, for live events. Remote Captioning Services are also available to facilitate ADA compliant accessibility for virtual events on any platform.
SignNexus Interpreters and Captioners have extensive experience in a variety of specialized settings.
TRUSTED BY COMPANIES AND CLIENTS
THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY
I can recall a number of times throughout my childhood when my mother and siblings were turned away from receiving medical care simply because they were deaf. Sometimes they would arrive to a scheduled medical appointment where there were just no interpreters or accommodations, or other times they’d be denied the opportunity to even schedule an appointment. The person at the desk would tell my mother that their office wouldn’t accommodate the needs of deaf patients, and perhaps offer a referral to an office located all the way across the city. Not only are these practices totally illegal, but it is a form of oppression, and it unfortunately still happens today.
Despite the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) being law for more than 25 years, deaf individuals continue to face difficulties when seeking medical care. In 2014, a woman in Washington State arrived at the hospital for a planned induced delivery only to discover that her request for an interpreter had not been fulfilled. When the delivery became complicated and a cesarian section was necessary, the woman struggled to comprehend what was happening. Less extreme situations commonly go unreported. A deaf person who needs to see a doctor but gets turned away at the desk might get upset and frustrated, then just book an appointment somewhere else— but it would be well within their rights to bring a lawsuit against the doctor’s office for violating Title III of the ADA, which guarantees equal access to privately owned places of public accommodation.
For the most part, medical office staff do not maliciously engage in oppressive behaviors toward deaf patients. The disconnect is typically a general lack of knowledge. It should be a priority for office staff and medical practitioners to understand deafness, as more than 15% of adults in America are living with some level of hearing loss; and more than 25% of people over 65 have disabling hearing loss.
How to Interact with an individual who is deaf
To help create positive relationships with deaf patients, medical office staff can familiarize themselves with a few basic communication strategies.
Often, the first frustrating hurdle to medical care occurs when the deaf patient calls the medical office to schedule an appointment and the receptionist hangs up on the relay call, thinking it’s a telemarketing call. Do NOT hang up on relay calls! Receptionists should be trained to recognize a call from a relay service and feel confident engaging with the deaf consumer in this way.
Some deaf people are able to read lips, but it’s not safe to assume anyone’s comfort with this method. Lip reading is generally not a reliable means of communication in a medical setting, unless the deaf individual explicitly indicates that they would prefer to receive their medical information using oral communication. Studies have shown that even the very best lip reader can only capture about 30% of what is being said. Always defer to the patient’s preferences.
If a deaf patient is in the office, notes can be a good way to communicate short, simple ideas. When interacting with a deaf individual, medical staff and providers should have a pen and paper available, or opt for digital using a smartphone or tablet to write back and forth. This can be a great way to ask the deaf person how they prefer to communicate, if they have their insurance card, or when they would like to schedule their next appointment. Notes may be a preferred method of communication for some late-deafened or hard of hearing individuals.
However, for those who use American Sign Language as their primary form of communication, notes are not an effective way to discuss symptoms or deliver a diagnosis, since ASL is a unique language that doesn’t translate directly to English. If a deaf person who uses ASL arrives to the office and an interpreter has not been scheduled, office staff may use notes to communicate regarding the patient’s interpreter preferences and reschedule the appointment. Medical professionals must avoid pressuring deaf patients to proceed without an interpreter, as this can open up a potential liability.
Staff members and medical professionals should remember to keep checking in every step of the way to make sure the patient remains engaged. If one communication strategy doesn’t seem to be working, work together with the patient to create a more effective strategy.
Under the ADA, it is the obligation of the medical service provider as a public entity to offer equal access for all citizens. For those who identify as ASL users, the most reasonable accommodation is usually an interpreter.
Every medical practice, without exception, ought to have a current contract on file with a reputable local interpreting agency. Deaf-owned or interpreter-owned agencies are preferred because they offer higher quality services with a focus on consumer satisfaction. Be prepared! The ADA has been law for more than 25 years so the funds for accessibility services should be allocated into the operating budget; financial hardship is difficult to prove.
When requesting services, it is advised to provide as much information as possible to ensure a good interpreter match. Note that interpreters do book up in advance, so it is ideal to make the request with at least a week’s notice to secure coverage.
Family Members and Staff Members are NOT Interpreters
Utilizing a deaf patient’s family members or medical office staff as interpreters is a HUGE no-no, and a liability lawsuit waiting to happen. Medical interpreters are trained professionals with specialized vocabularies, they navigate both linguistic and cultural barriers using an established code of ethics.
If staff members at the medical office happen to know sign language, they should only utilize it to converse with deaf patients if they are fluent. A person seeking medical care does not necessarily want to help the receptionist practice their ASL. If a staff member is not a licensed interpreter, it is not appropriate for them to provide sign language interpreting services, nor is it appropriate for the family members of deaf patients to provide interpreting services.
Cultural competency training offers exciting opportunities for medical providers and support staff to connect with a segment of the population that has for too long been forced to the sidelines when it comes to their own healthcare.
A comprehensive training program led by deaf panelists can provide employees of a medical practice a safe space to work through common misconceptions, break free of stereotypes, and consider new perspectives. As a professional development program, cultural competency training helps employees understand their legal responsibilities, and cultivates a deeper sense of compassion.
For medical providers and employees within the medical care industry, of course people are the first priority. By laying a foundation of cultural understanding, it’s easy to build a successful practice that attracts diverse members of the community, and to earn a positive reputation for accessibility.
SignNexus is pleased to offer Sign Language Interpreting services both on-site and remotely to help medical providers effectively fulfill their obligations under the ADA. Contact us today!
This week is International Week of the Deaf, a worldwide celebration of deafness, d/Deaf individuals, Deaf cultures, and signed languages which is held every year at the end of September. This year, the theme of the week is “Full Inclusion with Sign Language.”
To celebrate International Week of the Deaf, I wanted to highlight 5 major civil rights issues that Deaf advocates are actively working to address.
Access to Signed Language
Because 9 out of 10 deaf babies are born to hearing parents with no connection to the d/Deaf community, the first few months of a deaf child’s life can be confusing— for both the parents and the developing child. This is a critical window of time for cognitive development. This is a time when babies are learning so much about the world, and they need a language with which they can begin to frame it.
The National Association for the Deaf (NAD) takes a very strong and clear position on the topic of access to signed language, stating: “Deaf and hard of hearing children like all children have a right to language. Signed language, being a visual language, is the only completely accessible language for these children… Research has shown that thousands of deaf and hard of hearing children are experiencing various levels of language deprivation, many to an extent that constitutes harm in the form of educational, social-emotional and cognitive delays. For this reason, it is the position of the National Association of the Deaf that an all-out effort needs to be made to ensure that all deaf and hard of hearing children have full and meaningful access to language from birth and the benefit of visual language and visual learning.”
Dr. Peter Hauser, a Clinical Neuropsychologist and associate professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has given numerous lectures and conducts ongoing research that makes a strong case for giving deaf children access to signed language. He even wrote book along with his esteemed colleague Dr. Marc Marshark called “How Deaf Children Learn.” Further underlining support of early access to signed language, NTID offers a FAQ on their site about Educating Deaf Children with answers from international experts.
Piggybacking on the problems caused by delayed language acquisition, access to education is one of the biggest issues that the d/Deaf community seeks to address. So many young people who are deaf suffer, often without complaint, through years in an educational system that simply was not designed for them to succeed.
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) website explains: “Deaf children have the right to expect that their needs and human, linguistic and educational rights are respected and supported … Studies by the WFD reveal that the enrollment rate and literacy achievement of Deaf children is far below the average for the population at large. Illiteracy and semi-literacy are serious problems among Deaf people. Without appropriate education, advancement in society as an independent, employed, contributing citizen becomes problematic…. WFD takes the unequivocal position that there is no excuse for this deplorable situation, since Deaf children have the same innate intellectual, social and emotional capacities, as do all children.”
Access to a curriculum that makes sense for their abilities can determine the course of a deaf student’s future. Schools need to be prepared to offer captioning and high quality interpreting services for students who are deaf, as needed, and these costs need to be built into the budget right from the start.
Although the exact statistics can be a bit fuzzy, the indisputable fact remains: Unemployment is a problem that disproportionately impacts the d/Deaf community. Deaf individuals are unemployed at a significantly higher rate than the hearing population.
From the interview process onward, discriminatory attitudes create barriers to career success. Employers might be afraid to hire a person who is deaf because they don’t understand how to open lines of communications and integrate this person onto the team; they may overlook a perfectly qualified deaf candidate in favor of a less qualified hearing person. Once they have been hired, typically deaf individuals are given little support, encouragement, or room for career advancement. Without satisfactory employment opportunities, the cycle of oppression just continues ad infinitum. It never ends.
Those who are d/Deaf deserve the same opportunities to build a life for themselves as everyone else, without being limited by a language barrier or limited by a lack of cultural awareness. Deaf activist groups have to advocate constantly for the basic human right to earn a livable income. In 2015, there was a march on Washington DC to raise awareness about deaf unemployment, and to demonstrate support for opening up better job opportunities.
To learn more about this topic, check out the following blogs:
Things don’t get easier once people are returned to citizen life, with the combination of a disability and a criminal record it can be nearly impossible to find decent work. Without equal access to justice at every s
tep along the way, the entire system continues to uphold the oppression of marginalized people.
Just turn on the local news with the closed captioning, you will quickly witness how live captioning can be almost hilariously inaccurate (or in the case of an emergency, dangerously inaccurate). And, as the “No More Craptions” campaign points out, accessibility for internet content is even worse. The bottom line here is that people who are deaf— when they actually do receive “access” to the communication services they need— are often still being denied an equal experience.
With regards to interpreting services, unfortunately, some organizations just hire the cheapest interpreting agency they can find, and this agency might not even have anyone who is fluent in ASL screening the interpreters before they are sent out on assignment. These unqualified interpreters serve as yet another communication barrier for the deaf consumer, and they might even dramatically impact or endanger the person’s life. At the end of the day, effective communication is not being offered, which is a violation of the ADA.
In 2004, RID and NAD implemented a joint Code of Professional Ethics for all members and certified interpreters. RID has established an interpreter certification program to to help maintain a high level of excellence, and the organization provides a support network for constant professional development. Although these efforts are slowly improving service for deaf consumers, they have sadly not prevented unqualified interpreters from getting work.
Even now, in the year 2017, there are persistent barriers that people who are deaf must overcome to gain basic access to everyday goods and services. The Americans with Disabilities Act endeavors to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of ability, by requiring businesses and organizations to offer “reasonable accommodations” that allow effective communication. For people who are d/Deaf, this could mean anything from captioning, texting, video relay services, or sign language interpreting services, dependent on the individual.
At the same time, the d/Deaf community is becoming stronger and more cohesive than ever, connecting across countries, languages, religions, genders, races, and disabilities. As this happens, we begin to recognize where these discussions intersect and overlap with other systems of oppression, finding greater strength even still. Deaf issues have seeped into the mainstream consciousness and will continue to find footing in the ongoing public discourse on diversity, chipping away at the cultural ignorance that places a lifetime of limitations on a person just because of their hearing ability.
New York City has so many incredible Summer street festivals, art exhibits, and cultural events to enjoy. Now, imagine how many shows you would go to if you had to contact the event organizers weeks in advance, explain that you need special accommodations, and possibly even explain how to secure those resources. This is the burden placed on deaf people every time they want to attend and event, and it is a far cry from equal access.
Organizer’s work long and hard to ensure their events are successful, but somewhere along the way they come to the conclusion that providing deaf access is a choice. We live in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, with laws that specifically protect the deaf and hard of hearing, but still excuses are made to exclude interpreters from event budgets. Without considering how challenging this makes it for deaf people to ever show up on a whim, event planners make the assumption that deaf attendees will always go through the steps to identify themselves and their needs.
The message being sent to deaf people is that they are not really invited.
Yes, deaf people still get out, they still attend events, and they still know how to have a good time. But, as an event planner, why make that difficult? It’s long past time we stop making excuses and remove the barriers to equal access. Providing an interpreter is so easy and it is an act that deaf people definitely notice.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires auxiliary aids be available at any event that is open to the public, whether it is free or paid. Instead of assuming their event will draw a diverse audience, some event organizers still choose to make deaf attendees go through the steps of requesting accommodation. This is a subtle form of audism, the belief that those who can not hear are inferior, and it is in fact discrimination.
Why put months of effort into an event if you don’t want people to feel welcomed? Be proactive– plan for deaf people, and people of all abilities, so that everyone can participate equally. Not only because it’s the law, but because it’s the right thing to do. Hiring interpreters for all your events is not difficult, it is not an outrageous financial burden, and it is a responsible step in ensuring equal accessibility. There are even tax write offs and other forms of financial assistance available to assist organizations with ADA compliance.
Having interpreters at music venues, fairs, or outdoor events may seem like a small detail, but for those who rely on ASL, it can make a huge difference. The deaf community truly appreciates organizations which consistently provide access, and regularly patronize establishments which are known to be deaf friendly. Deafness knows no racial, gender, or religious boundaries; it is a beautiful mix of all cultures. I would love to live in a society that truly embraces diversity, instead of one that marginalizes it’s own citizens.