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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Day by Day: The Chronicles of a Hard of Hearing Reporter

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Hospitals should, by this time, be aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that public places, such as hospitals, must accommodate the needs of people who are hearing impaired. Specifically, Title III (Public Accommodations), states that:
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 of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.[3]
This provision includes the requirement to make communication available. It may mean that if you are hearing impaired you will need the use of an amplified phone or a TTY or access to a sign language interpreter.[4] A pad and pencil may be the last resort. In a medical setting, particularly in a stressful setting such as a hospital, every effort should be made to make sure that the hard of hearing patient is able to communicate. Staff should be aware of and trained on how to communicate best with people with hearing disabilities.

When I had my first MRI, magnetic resonance imagery, I did not have hearing aids. I did not know what I would encounter. I was placed in a large tube and told to lay very still. For about forty minutes, I not only felt claustrophobic but also felt isolated, alone, and fearful. I was concerned about the outcome of the MRI. The technicians were continually speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear them and had no idea what they were saying. It was a bad experience for me.

Seven years later I had another MRI. This time I had my hearing aids in, and I knew what to expect. I had also learned to tell people that I was hard of hearing. The test was again claustrophobic, but I felt more in control of the situation because the technicians were aware of my needs.

Recently while visiting someone in the hospital, I noted a crude sign on a patient’s door that read, “Patient deaf.” It was an impersonal sign written in crayon, almost as if it served as a warning rather than functioning as an aid in the patient’s health care. I felt that the sign did not convey respect for the patient’s dignity. I believe it is important for hospital staff to be aware when a patient is deaf. The patient’s chart, bed, and intercom should be flagged appropriately so that staff knows when a patient is hard of hearing or deaf; needs hearing aids to hear; needs to be spoken to slowly; and/or uses an interpreter to communicate.

Again, it is incumbent upon hospital staff to be trained in working with deaf and hard of hearing people. If hospital staff wants patient cooperation during medical procedures, then patients must understand and be able to follow directions. If patients cannot understand what is happening, their medical care may be jeopardized.

3. 42 U.S.C. 12182(a).

4. National Association of the Deaf, Legal Rights: The Guide for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, Fifth edition, 2000, pp. 30–34.

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