Aristotle was the first to have a theory about Deaf people.  His thought was that human beings can only learn through hearing spoken language. Deaf people were therefore seen as being unable to learn or educated in any way.  This resulted in deaf individuals often being denied even their fundamental rights. In some places, they weren’t permitted to buy property or marry. Some were even forced to have guardians. The law labeled them as “non-persons.” This negative perspective of deaf individuals has unfortunately continued through the centuries, even into our own generation. Fortunately, with improved access to education and professional interpreting services, Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are now afforded the same opportunities as everyone else. Today, there are more Deaf and hard of hearing professionals in the fields of medicine, engineering, technology, law and leadership than ever before.

Aristotle’s claim was disputed in Europe during the Renaissance as scholars attempted to educate deaf people for the first time in recorded history. This sparked the creation of sign language. Organized deaf education was non-existent until the 1700s when the first public deaf school was established in France. French sign language was introduced in America in the 1800’s and has been widely used ever since. Deaf people have depended on their friends, teachers or family members to “interpret” for them for generations.

In 1964, American Sign Language became recognized as an official language with its own unique syntax and grammar, although, to this day, there is no written form.  Thus, written English is considered a second language for most Deaf people.

Also in 1964, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, an organization that certifies interpreters, was established.  Interpreter training programs began in the 1970s, consisting of six – eight-week classes developed for friends and family of deaf individuals to enhance vocabulary and provide some structure to what these ‘helpers’ were doing.

The field of interpreting has developed into an industry that requires the individual to have a much more formal education with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Many interpreter training programs offer specialized graduate education in medical interpreting, linguistics and other specialized interpreting settings.  As a professional industry, sign language interpreting, and more specifically, medical interpreting, is still in its infancy compared to other more established professions. Standards continue to improve, service delivery is conducted in innovative ways and individuals who utilize the services of sign language interpreters expect higher quality and areas of expertise.

One innovation impacting the Deaf and hard of hearing communities in healthcare is video remote interpreting (VRI).  The ‘picturephone’ was introduced to the public at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, however, due to slow analogue phone lines and the high cost of data, video technology was not utilized by Deaf individuals until the 1990s. Only in the recent decade has the infrastructure within healthcare systems become robust enough to implement VRI as an effective form of communication with Deaf and hard of hearing patients. However, even now, it takes the effort of multiple parties working collaboratively to ensure a strong, stable connection.

For over ten years, InDemand has successfully blended high quality interpreter training with robust video technology, enabling health care providers to effectively serve over two million diverse individuals who comprise the Deaf or hard of hearing communities.  We recognize that video remote interpreting is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and value a strong partnership between video remote and onsite interpreting, as well as the need for the specialized services of Certified Deaf Interpreters in the healthcare setting.

There are variations in how a person becomes deaf or hard of hearing, level of hearing, age of onset, educational background, communication methods, and cultural identity.  How people “label” or identify themselves is personal and may reflect identification with the deaf and hard of hearing community, the degree to which they can hear, or the relative age of onset. – National Association of the Deaf

As technology continues to improve, the delivery of healthcare services will continue to evolve, allowing more patients to have greater access to exceptional medical care.  As a result, InDemand will continue to lead the way in transforming medical interpreting for Deaf and hard of hearing patients.