News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Editorial urges Maine doctors to provide interpreters for Deaf patients

White hands on a black background making the ASL sign for "interpreter."

The April 3, "Maine Voices" editorial in the Portland Press Herald, "Deaf Mainers shortchanged when health professionals don't provide interpreters," gives the case for hiring qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for Deaf Mainers. This is a thorough, articulate, and important piece for all health-care professionals in Maine (and elsewhere) to read and understand.

Meryl Troop of the Maine Center for Deafness and Kim Moody of the Disability Rights Center of Maine start by describing the arguments and excuses a wide variety of health care providers in Maine use to explain why they do not provide interpreters for patients who request them. The most common reason seems to be that health providers are accustomed to "writing back and forth" with hearing-impaired patients and believe that, since they believe this works well for some or many patients, it should be good enough for all. Troop and Moody explain why this is not the case:

Deaf people who use American Sign Language to communicate ... just want to understand their health care, their vision changes, why their glasses aren’t quite right, why their child needs a specific procedure and what they’ll have to do to provide home care for their partners, spouses and children. Just like people who can hear. They request an interpreter because they know that will be the best communication accommodation that works for them....
“You can’t say working through an interpreter orally is as effective as one-to-one written communication.”
Actually, we can ... Fewer than 1 percent of Maine’s population have been Deaf from early childhood, before they learned to understand and speak a language, and they may never have learned to read and write well enough to carry on a complex conversation about health care and medical issues....
In any event, do health care providers have the time to write out, in the same level of detail, what they say on a routine basis to patients who can hear and speak English? Is their handwriting legible when writing under the time constraints of today’s shortened appointments?
This article does a great job of explaining that -- even though over forty years have passed since most health care settings were mandated to provide equal access -- many health providers still don't realize that access is not a cookie cutter situation. In the cases Moody and Troop are discussing, this means that what works to communicate with a late-deafened person whose native language is English may not necessarily be what works best for a prelingually Deaf person whose native language is ASL.

The article also references recent legal cases in Maine where judgments have consistently gone to the Deaf patient's right for communication access in medical settings. The legal and ethical burden is on the health care professional to provide real, two-way communication access, which is best determined by who needs the access. Patients' rights and Deaf or disability rights are may be the same thing when the patient is Deaf or disabled!

Read the complete article.

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