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November 16, 2002

Strong offers deaf awareness

From: Rochester Democrat Chronicle, NY
Nov. 16, 2002

By Greg Livadas
Democrat and Chronicle

(November 16, 2002) — It’s bad enough being sick, but not knowing what your doctor is asking or telling you to do can only add to the anxiety.

In a role reversal exercise to make first-year medical students more aware of the needs of deaf patients, students at the University of Rochester Medical Center on Friday were given fictitious ailments and told to see “doctors” -- actually 20 deaf volunteers from the community.

In its fifth year, “Deaf Strong Hospital” is the only such program that educates medical students in the country.

“I’m lost,” said Uzodinma Emerenini, 23, a medical student from New York City after visiting Valerie Nelson-Metlay, a deaf volunteer who donned a white doctor’s coat for the day.

“I don’t think she understood a word I said and I didn’t understand what she said either, but we kept smiling at each other. It was frustrating.”

Through an interpreter, student Xiaomang Ba was told by “doctor” Doug Matchett of Brighton that she probably had leukemia and needed immediate chemotherapy.

“That doesn’t sound very well,” Ba said.

“OK. Have a nice day,” Matchett replied smiling, sending her on her way.

Deaf patients say communication problems are expected when visiting a doctor. Volunteer Wayne Betts Jr., 21, of Scottsville, said he recently had to wait in an emergency room more than three hours for an interpreter when he injured a knee.

“It bothered me because I knew I could have been in and out of there in 5 or 10 minutes,” he said.

Prior to the exercise, Robert Pollard, a Ph.D. and director of UR’s Deaf Wellness Center, gave students a brief presentation about deaf history and controversies.

Terms such as “deaf and dumb” are insulting. “Deaf and hard of hearing” are preferred because they don’t focus on an impairment, he said.

Common myths are that American Sign Language is just like English, that deaf people are all alike and communicate in the same way, and that lip reading is easy and efficient.

Pollard told them to maintain eye contact with their patients, make sure the area is well-lit and to speak with normal enunciation.

Learning the manual alphabet is also helpful, especially in the Rochester area, which has thousands of deaf and hard of hearing residents.

“Consider this a friendly social obligation,” Pollard said.

He said the exercise also would benefit students when they see patients who aren’t deaf but don’t speak English.

Students also got to see how text telephones are used and got a short a course on sign language.

Phil Vitticore, a fourth-year medical student and member of Promoting Awareness in Healthcare, Medical and Deaf (PAH, MD), said his interest in communicating with deaf patients began out of the frustration of not being able to do so.

“I found it to be one of the more challenging things I’ve done in my job,” he said. Participating in Deaf Strong Hospital years ago “has affected the way I’ve seen patients as a student and how I will see them in the future.”

Copyright 2002 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.