Sight Translation by Mary Luczki.

In all of our blogs, we’ve talked about how Deaf patients have the right to communication access, a right protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Communication access can come in the form of an on-site interpreter, VRI, the use of a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI), or even CART services. Yet, there are also instances where the Deaf person is not the patient, family member, friend, or caregiver. Like their hearing counterparts, Deaf people can also be a member of the medical staff.

The ADA protects individuals with a disability from discrimination. The law states: “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations …”

Further, the law states, “…a failure to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services…” (ADA, Title III)

Unfortunately, as is often the case, communication accommodations for medical students fall short of the legal obligations with which the educational institutions are mandated to comply. Over the past several years, many students have sued their medical schools for the right to have accommodations provided. Most often they are suing in order to force their universities to provide interpreters, real-time captioning, or even for the reinstatement of their acceptance into medical school after having it revoked because the Deaf student requested accommodations in the classroom and in their clinic rotations.

In 2013, the Journal of the Academic Medicine published a report titled: “Deafness Among Physicians and Trainees,” a study that took place in 2010. The report described the characteristics of and accommodations used by the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHoH) physician and trainee population and examined whether these individuals are more likely to care for DHoH patients.

The DHoH population is the second largest disability subgroup in the United States, and like many minorities, are often underrepresented and underserved. However, if medical universities and institutions began to recruit, train and employ DHoH candidates, they would most likely treat the DHoH patient population. If DHoH doctors and nurses are hired, then a valuable cultural and linguistic perspective would be represented in the medical field. The research also stated, “such recruiting and retention may augment efforts by programs seeking to provide more culturally accessible and psychologically compatible care for the DHoH population.” (Deafness Among Physicians and Trainees, pg. 7).

While the benefits of having a more diverse medical field are obvious, students still frequently face an uphill battle when arranging their accommodations. In the 1970s when the first accommodation discrimination cases were being heard, universities claimed that the accommodations available would be cumbersome in an Emergency Room and that waiting for an interpretation or real-time caption to be delivered could cost patient’s precious time. However, since the inception of the ADA, there have been incredible advancements in technology, and more importantly, the raised awareness that Deaf people are just that, Deaf, and their skills, abilities, and passions are no different than their hearing peers.

Deaf patients and medical students celebrate each winning case and the more diverse medical field it represents, bridging the population’s cultural and linguistic gap. As we’ve talked before, healthcare literacy is a problem in minority populations and especially in populations where the primary language of care is not the primary language of the patient. However, as more Deaf individuals become physicians, more patients have the opportunity to receive medical care in their native language further reducing re-admission or high repetitive utilization, while also increasing the patient’s opportunity to be fully engaged in their own healthcare.