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!
Most people know, of course, that a language difference exists between people who are deaf and those who can hear. People who are deaf communicate using a variety of strategies, ranging from lip reading and speaking, to writing notes, using gestures, or communicating via American Sign Language. Deafness can be a different experience for every person, and people come from all backgrounds and walks of life. So when we bridge only the communication gap between a deaf and a hearing person, there is still a lot of room for cultural misunderstanding!In America, many people who are deaf prefer using the visual language of ASL to communicate. These individuals consider themselves members of Deaf Culture, a linguistic minority group that has its own unique traditions, jokes, stories, and cultural norms. Deaf culture has no age, gender, race, or religious barriers, and members of Deaf culture frequently exist within several other intersecting cultural identities. To create truly effective communication with the Deaf community, hearing individuals must come to a greater understanding of what it means to be both medically deaf, and culturally Deaf.
It’s become trendy for businesses and organizations to use words like “Diversity” and “Inclusive” without actually taking any steps toward creating diversity or inclusion. Hiring an individual with a disability, but then making no effort to support their success, does not empower anyone, and can create resentments between people in the workplace. When a deaf individual shows up for a medical appointment (or any appointment at any business) and nobody in the organization knows how to accommodate their needs, that business has failed at providing equal access to their goods/services.
If an organization chooses to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, and truly wants to empower people of all abilities, Cultural Competency Training is a great next step. Educating staff from the top level down, and from the bottom levels up, offers a chance for organization-wide professional development and a much greater understanding of what diversity really means.
The first step toward welcoming d/Deaf individuals to connect with an organization is to get a contract on file with a local interpreting agency that offers high quality sign language interpreting services. Look for deaf-owned or ASL interpreter-owned agencies, or ask a deaf individual if they have a preferred agency to contact.
Cultural competency is not a feat, it is an opportunity! This is a chance to strengthen relationships within the organization, as well as relationships with customers, clients, and the community at large. Cultural Competency Training helps to identify the many different perspectives— employer, employee, deaf, hearing, interpreter, customer, consumer — and assists in creating mutual understanding from all sides. By working with deaf trainers to explore the various scenarios where d/Deaf and hearing people interact, everyone
gets an opportunity to ask those awkward cross-cultural questions, or clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment. With proper training, buzzwords like “diversity” become very real and applicable concepts and everyone reaps the benefits.
LC Interpreting Services is thrilled to offer Cultural Competency Training seminars for businesses and organizations. Working with a set of Deaf consultants, employees at all levels can deepen their understanding of deafness, Deaf culture, and Deaf communication to effectively bridge the persistent gaps that exist. Cultural Competency Training is an excellent solution for progressive companies ready to take it beyond basic communication.
July 26 marks the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act: a set of laws established to help people with disabilities gain access to society that was simply not designed for them. Since 1990, this landmark piece of legislation has improved the lives of millions of Americans by providing clarification regarding their rights to access— whether that means built-in wheelchair ramps, requesting ASL interpreters, or allowing service animals into buildings— and offering legal recourse for individuals whose rights are violated.
Make no mistake, the ADA has not miraculously leveled the playing field for those with disabilities. It helped lay the foundation for equal access, but the ADA does not guarantee that services will be available for those who need them when they need them.
Deaf Self Advocacy
Without the hard work of determined disability rights activists, the ADA would never have been passed; and without ongoing advocacy efforts, little real change might have come from the legislation. People who do not need to reference the ADA on a regular basis to get their basic needs met are frequently unaware of their obligation to ensure equal access to their establishment / service / business. In the years since the ADA became law, people with disabilities have had to consistently perform the labor of educating people about their disabilities and what it means to be disabled in a world that favors able-bodied individuals. They must also be willing to challenge organizations to go beyond bare minimum compliance, which can sometimes mean taking on large institutions in a public way.
Below you will find links to some recent video blogs by individuals who are d/Deaf/HoH:
Sean Gerlis discusses the definitions of “Reasonable Accommodation” and “Effective communication” specifically within the context of remote video interpreting (VRI) services: https://youtu.be/4m74plfjJuY
These are only a few of the thousands of thoughtful explanations and analyses of the ADA and how these legal provisions actually apply to those who are deaf. There are countless hours of video containing firsthand accounts, experiences, successes and failures available on the Internet for those wishing to gain a deeper insight into the longterm impact of the 1990 Act. Overall we have seen quite a bit of progress yet discrimination remains a fact, due in large part to simple ignorance.
If you are a deaf or hard of hearing individual, it is your responsibility to ensure that your rights are not being violated. Until we live in a world where accessibility is built-in and widely understood, the burden will continue to fall on already disadvantaged minority groups to fight for basic accommodations.
Each time a person takes it upon themselves to challenge the institution that oppresses them, they remove a barrier for the next person— no matter how big or small. This incremental progress adds up over time. If your rights are violated, pursue further action. If your needs are not adequately met, provide feedback and pursue further action. The advocacy and awareness that each person spreads works toward creating a more educated society with advanced views of disability. Pushing back is important work!
Everyone Can Support the ADA
But what about allies? How can people who are not deaf or disabled help, without their position of able-bodied privilege resulting in further oppression? Where to get started?
On a day-to-day basis, allies can look for opportunities to help raise awareness about deaf perspectives and offer support for better access. Examples:
A marketing manager or event coordinator at a company can take it upon themselves to consistently educate about and advocate for inclusive events, emphasizing the importance of providing interpreters and advertising events as deaf-friendly.
Managers and supervisors on a corporate level can suggest cultural competency training for employees, preferably a program created by and/ or led by people who are deaf. This will help create an understanding of diversity, and can open up new possibilities with deaf clients and customers.
Administrators or Human Resource managers can take the time to ensure that their organization has contracts on file with high quality interpreting agencies. They can work to emphasize the importance of being prepared for deaf individuals to access goods and services as they please.
If there are initiatives underway in the community, for example deaf individuals in your area are pushing for captioned showings at theaters, make sure to amplify their concerns and take any actions possible to support their cause.
The ADA in action is more of a tool for people with disabilities than any kind of guarantee. This set of legislation only works when it is enforced, and it is up to each member of our society to help enforce it.
We must maintain our willingness to challenge comfortable but oppressive social norms in everyday situations. We need to keep pushing for what is right, even when it is the more difficult path. Working together, little by little we can help remove the structural roadblocks that limit individuals, thereby collectively creating a truly diverse America.
LCIS is thrilled to offer ADA Compliance Consulting for businesses and organizations. Our ADA Compliance Consulting program works in conjunction with relevant stakeholders and committee of Deaf advisors to assist organizations with reducing legal risk and ensuring that their business has all the tools for success when working with Deaf/ HoH customers, clients, or employees. Contact us Today for more information!
An unusual tale about a young Indian woman named Geeta has been making its way around the internet after a Bollywood film helped spark interest in her story. As a child, Geeta accidentally crossed the border into Pakistan all alone. She lived there in the care of a social welfare group for more than ten years years until last month, when she finally returned to India. Geeta is deaf and uses sign language to communicate, and the way the mainstream media has chosen to portray her is quite revealing. Major news outlets from CNN to CBS to Al Jazeera all decided to utilize the outdated term “deaf-mute” in their stories about the woman.
For centuries, people with different abilities, intellectual skills or physical features were forced to live on the fringes of society. They were labeled “defective” or “freaks” by the mainstream, and their families were shamed by their existence. These labels kept people isolated, and they opened the door for abuse and neglect. People who were deaf were never even given the opportunity to learn or socialize. They were denied humanity just because they were a little bit different.
Thankfully we have come a long way over the past hundred years and our culture is learning to appreciate the beauty of diversity. When our perspectives on disability began to evolve, so too did the language we use to discuss people who are disabled. While reading news stories about the “deaf-mute girl” in mainstream American outlets, however, I can’t help but feel like we’ve transported a half century backwards in our acceptance of deafness.
The term deaf-mute is problematic, and it is not an appropriate way to discuss a person. Calling someone “mute” silences them and strips them of their agency— it sticks a label on them that devalues their autonomy. Mute is a loaded term which carries the distinct connotation that people who are deaf don’t have anything to say.
According to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), a civil rights organization created by and for deaf people, “mute… means silent and without voice. This label is technically inaccurate, since deaf and hard of hearing people generally have functioning vocal chords. The challenge lies with the fact that to successfully modulate your voice, you generally need to be able to hear your own voice. Again, because deaf and hard of hearing people use various methods of communication other than or in addition to using their voices, they are not truly mute. True communication occurs when one’s message is understood by others, and they can respond in kind.”
When photos of Geeta’s family were shown to her, she recognized them, and was able to communicate that she knew who they were. Her message was successfully sent and received without words. Although major media outlets decided to call her mute, Geeta was in fact communicating and cooperating with a number of different agencies to find her way home. The ethical and appropriate terminology in this instance would be “non-verbal.” If she were unable to use sign language, she would be called “non-verbal, non-signing.”
Mute is just one offensive term that regularly pops up in news stories about deafness from supposedly reputable news agencies. The archaic phrase “deaf and dumb” also occasionally makes its way into headline news. It seems obvious why deaf people do not want to be called dumb, yet clueless hearing reporters continue using the term.
NAD explains: “A relic from the medieval English era, this is the granddaddy of all negative labels pinned on deaf and hard of hearing people. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, pronounced us ‘deaf and dumb’, because he felt that deaf people were incapable of being taught, of learning, and of reasoned thinking. To his way of thinking, if a person could not use his/her voice in the same way as hearing people, then there was no way that this person could develop cognitive abilities.”
Hearing-impaired is another commonly seen phrase. When you hear the word “impaired”, what do you think? Broken? Incomplete? According to NAD “The term ‘hearing-impaired’ is viewed as negative. The term focuses on what people can’t do. It establishes the standard as ‘hearing’ and anything different as ‘impaired,’ or substandard, hindered, or damaged. It implies that something is not as it should be and ought to be fixed if possible.”
Hearing-impaired is a label created by the hearing community to be more “politically correct” about deafness. Although some deaf/ HoH individuals may choose to call themselves hearing-impaired, particularly those who lose their hearing later in life, it has gone out of favor within the larger deaf community, who (depending on their level of hearing and use of sign language) generally prefer to be called either deaf, Deaf, or hard of hearing.
Had the reporters at the major publications glanced in the AP Stylebook, they would have seen, under the entry for Deaf: “avoid using deaf-mute.” If the journalists and editors working for mainstream outlets had any deaf consultants proof reading their articles about deafness, they almost certainly would not be running stories calling deaf people “mute” “dumb” or “impaired”. Use of these damaging terms actually says far more about the perspective of the author and the lack of diversity within the news organization than anything else.
The story of Geeta is framed as a heroic rescue where the “deaf-mute girl” was saved by hearing parties. Geeta is portrayed as an object to be traded across borders, instead of a grown woman capable of feelings and thought. She is dehumanized in these stories to enhance the reputation of her “saviors.” She has lived her whole life without hearing or speech, and then the media choose to tell her story in a way that further denies her voice.
Deaf is not a bad word and being deaf isn’t a bad thing! All around the world, I see deaf pride bursting out of people who are finally gaining the opportunities they deserve. People who are deaf continue to fight for their rights, struggle for access, and work toward acceptance in mainstream society. Just because hearing people decide to put them on “mute” doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.
So you’re interested in Deaf culture and want to connect with the larger community. Great! But how do you go about taking that first step?
Everyone has been in a situation where they feel completely out of place. Maybe it was the first day in a new school or at a new job. These moments, as uncomfortable as they might seem, often provide us opportunities for personal growth. For hearing people, the thought of entering a Deaf space — a place where all conversations happen in American Sign Language— can be a little intimidating. Ultimately, however, stepping outside of ones’ comfort zone is a priceless experience that has the potential to open our minds to a whole new reality.
If you are nervous or shy, just take it slow. A good first step is to get involved in an online community where Deaf people dictate the conversation. This is an excellent way to “get to know” people without feeling too much social pressure. The way you connect with others will depend on your personal and professional interests. Try searching the #Deaf hashtag on Twitter, or find an active community on Facebook or LinkedIn. Follow the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), World Federation of the Deaf, Deaf Nation, and Deaf World as a place to get started.
The internet has given deaf people a public voice like never before! From online discussions you can get a feel for the tones people use to communicate with each other, the types of things they find funny, and what issues they find important. Like and share content created by deaf individuals to amplify their voices, and don’t be afraid to follow new people and jump in on discussions if you have something to contribute. Help bring attention to issues that are “hot topics” or in need of support. Pay attention to what is being discussed, what rumors are going around, and what events are coming up in your area.
Be sure to add some Deaf-created content to your RSS Feed or Blogroll to get educated while exploring the many dimensions of Deaf culture. Follow news and views from d/Deaf/ HoH activist Rikki Poytner, watch the hilarious “Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” or explore any number of other YouTube channels for videos that help bridge the culture gap. “Fridays” is a new ASL web series about two deaf best friends just trying to figure out life and relationships, it’s written and produced by Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman. For cute and totally relevant comics about Deaf and CODA life, follow “That Deaf Guy” Matt Daigle.
Getting involved with the online community will make it easier to take the next step, which is to get out and meet new people! Some people find that using Meetup, a site and mobile app that allows users to form groups and arrange meetings, offers a comfortable transition between online discussion and in-person engagement. Look for a Meetup group in your area and, if there isn’t one, create a group! You never know, there might be other likeminded individuals who are looking for the exact same thing.
If meeting people off the internet isn’t up your alley, there are plenty of other options to connect with the Deaf community. Try Google searching for a Deaf coffee chat or Deaf club in your city. If you live near Rochester, NY, check out the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) campus. Or, if you live near Washington, DC, look for events at Gallaudet University. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local deaf organizations or the local interpreter training program for more information, you will find that most people are happy to help.
Attending Deaf Expos is an awesome way to meet new people and immerse yourself to an environment where ASL is the primary language. These expos are growing in popularity, making their way from major cities to more regional venues. Learn about all the services, events, and cool things happening within the Deaf community. Another option is to find out if there is an ASL Slam or Deaf cultural events coming up nearby. Maybe there’s a monthly Deaf coffee meetup, or another type of casual social meeting that is open to the public. There are deaf-owned and operated restaurants popping up in major North American cities, such as Mozzeria in San Francisco, Signs in Toronto, and DeaFined in Vancouver where you communicate with mostly deaf waitstaff. Remember that it’s perfectly natural to be nervous the first time you do something, but that should never prevent you from seizing the opportunity to expand your horizons.
If you are training to be an ASL interpreter, sign up with your local RID chapter. It helps to not only be connected with the Deaf community, but also to participate in the Interpreting community. Learn about upcoming workshops and events. Meet other interpreters from all backgrounds, expertise, and experience levels. If anyone understands how scary it can be to push yourself outside your comfort zone, it’s others who work in this field.
If you want to get involved with the Deaf community, there is no reason not to. Deaf people spend their lives marginalized by the hearing majority culture, so taking the initiative to form a connection is generally appreciated. Start by practicing your ASL and learning about the different methods of deaf-hearing communication, which will lessen any anxiety about engaging new people. Educate yourself on Deaf issues, understand what it means to be an ally, and attend an upcoming event in your area. Then just find a friendly face in the room, and strike up a conversation!
If you are in an interpreter training program and looking for ways to get involved with the Deaf community, consider mentoring through LC Interpreting Services. Our mentorship programs are individually designed to offer exactly what you need to feel confident as an intepreter, from strengthening skills to providing guidance, and everything in between!
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses prove challenging for much of the general population. Yet talented deaf individuals continue to flood these growing fields. People who are deaf can absolutely excel in STEM careers when they are able to access opportunities in the classroom and the workplace. For those who use ASL as their… Continue Reading
Picture this: you’re attending a lecture from a highly respected professional in your field. The lecture was well publicized and draws a large regional or national audience. When this person takes the stage to speak, however, you can hardly understand a word they say. Your peers are jotting down notes and nodding their heads in… Continue Reading
Everyone at the office calls your Deaf coworker Diane, but she is better known in the Deaf community as “Bright.” Bright is a genuine person who is always smiling and positive. Her cheerful name sign captures her personality way better than the name “Diane” ever could! Many hearing people are surprised to learn that the… Continue Reading
Imagine this: you sit down on Sunday evening to stream a popular TV program– that show everyone will be discussing tomorrow. When the show starts, however, all the characters are using a completely foreign language. You can’t understand a thing! There are no subtitles and no closed captioning. Everyone on your Twitter feed is chatting… Continue Reading
On December 28, Madison Square Garden was a sea of colorful tie-dye, flashing LED lights, and smiling faces. The crowd energy in the sold out venue reached a frenzy when the house lights went down, and rock band Phish took the stage. As Phish pulsated the building with their signature jams, their renowned lighting director… Continue Reading
After months of worrying about nursery colors and baby names, the big day has finally arrived! Your healthy bundle of joy is born with 10 fingers and 10 toes; crying and cooing in your arms. The baby is beautiful, your family is complete, everything feels perfect! Fast forward a few months down the road when,… Continue Reading
As illustrated by the attention I received for interpreting during Hurricane Sandy, deaf communication really fascinates the hearing population! Growing up a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), it took me a long time to accept the wonderment others experience when they see sign language being used.When I was young, I ‘d become frustrated when patrons… Continue Reading
Since being on national television, I have received so much unexpected attention! Attention from the media, from my friends, from total strangers– it’s very flattering, if not a bit overwhelming! Of course, the first thing people want to ask about is my experience interpreting Mayor Bloomberg. Let me say, first and foremost, that the opportunity… Continue Reading