People with hearing loss form the largest
disability group in this country. In addition to the 4000 to
5000 babies who are born deaf every year, countless numbers of people
suffer injury or illnesses that cause deafness. As healthcare
providers we view deafness as a disability and focus purely on the
medical aspects of deafness. However Deaf people tend to find
this view restrictive and limiting, because it fails to describe the
sociological implications of deafness. Labels like "hearing
impaired" "deaf and dumb" or "deaf
mute", is considered undesirable because it refers to a presumed disability.
Deaf people prefer to view deafness not as a
handicap but as a shared experience underlying their sense of
community. As a symbol of pride and identity within this
community the word Deaf is often capitalized when referring to this
group. The Deaf community is a cultural group, sharing common
experience, concerns, and language.
Since the primary binding force for this cultural
group is its shared language, deaf people who do not use ASL
(American Sign Language) are not considered part of the Deaf
community. Conversely, some hearing people do belong to the
Deaf community. The Deaf community now includes perhaps as many
as half a million people throughout the United States.
These case studies were compiled from our
personal experiences and interviews with members of the Deaf community.
Many (most, I fear) hearing impaired women do not realize that they
are entitled to an interpreter during visits to their doctors. Seeing
a doctor is an intimidating experience for many people, and if one
must write out questions instead of signing, it is even more intimidating.
I know of a class through the New York
Medical College which is taught by a deaf woman who is very much a
patient advocate. The medical students are taught basic sign language
at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. They learn medical
terms and also learn about deaf culture. (More medical schools and
healthcare schools should follow this example.)
had an experience with a deaf woman who had a new baby. She
had a translator who signed to the patient what the nurses said and
then told the nursing staff what the patient said. As we spoke I kept
talking to the interpreter and directed all of my communications to
her. Finally, the interpreter told me to face the patient and speak
directly to her. Not only can deaf people read lips, but we are
basically leaving them out of the conversation if we do not direct
our conversations to them. It was a big learning experience for
me! Just thought this could be helpful for this site as an
example! ( "Joseph RN" )
a rural emergency department, a deaf patient had been waiting
in the Emergency Department exam room behind closed doors for
one and a half hours. The patients chief complaint was
abdominal pain and no medical evaluation had been done. When asked
why, the nurse simply replied ... "she is deaf
and mute and we are waiting for the interpreter, it's a week end it
will be a while before they arrive, we'll just have to wait. "
I communicated with the patient
using ASL (American Sign Language) while the doctor evaluated her.
The patient asked the doctor "why do you treat deaf people as if
we were animals who can neither read nor write ? in spite of
my university education I continue to experience this
The degree of insensitivity
toward deafness and deaf people displayed by the nurse and
doctor is unfortunately very high and mainly due to
ignorance rather than malice. The hearing assume that, thinking
cannot develop without language. Language cannot develop without
speech. Speech cannot develop without hearing.
Conclusion, those who cannot hear cannot think. These assumptions and
opinions have had a devastating impact on the lives of deaf people.