Deaf people encounter communication struggles with doctors and in hospitals


Both doctors and hospitals need to do a better job to help deaf and hard-of-hearing patients communicate with their care providers, according to a report in The Sacramento Bee.

The struggle to communicate with medical providers is a common complaint among the millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the U.S. and has resulted in dozens of legal settlements across the country in recent years, the newspaper said.

Despite the fact the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires doctor’s offices and hospitals to provide equal access and “effective communication” for people who have vision, speech or hearing impairment, patient complaints continue.

Sheri A. Farinha, CEO of NorCal Services for Deaf & Hard of Hearing in North Highlands, a nonprofit that represents people in 24 California counties, told the newspaper her organization receives complaints “weekly, if not daily.”

And it’s not just a problem in California. Hospitals, medical centers and doctors’ offices top the list of U.S. entities deemed the “worst in failing to provide effective communications to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals,” Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the nonprofit National Association of the Deaf, told the newspaper. The organization receives about 30 medical-related complaints a month, he said.

Rosemblum said it can be “frustrating and dehumanizing” for deaf and hard-of-hearing patients to try and communicate in medical settings. Sometimes they are forced to write messages back and forth with doctors and nurses, read lips or get news conveyed by a family member rather than a doctor, he said.

Complaints and lawsuits about the lack of interpreter help for the deaf are common. The federal Department of Justice, which launched its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative in 2012, has investigated about 36 cases involving a lack of interpreter services, the newspaper reported.

Along with sign-language interpreters for the deaf, doctors and hospitals can offer assistance with auxiliary aids and services such as closed-caption devices, text telephones and video-conferencing tools that link up with off-site interpreters, the newspaper said.

Doctors need training in how to accommodate deaf individuals, Mary Sackett, a medical malpractice defense attorney in Tiburon, California, told the newspaper. Physicians often aren’t aware of the ADA’s requirements, the types of hearing assistance available or even the full extent of a patient’s hearing loss, she said.

- read The Sacramento Bee article