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February 13, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: CAB office experiment suitable case for repeat prescription

From: Belfast Telegraph - Belfast,Nothern Ireland,UK - Feb 13, 2004

By Bob McCullough

RECENTLY my wife and I visited the Citizens' Advice Bureau office, just off the Hamilton Road in Bangor, on the morning reserved for deaf and hard of hearing people.

We needed some help with a house repair matter and were shown into the room where an interpreter was waiting to help with communication.

The CAB lady had also completed some deaf awareness and sign language training and in this relaxed and supportive atmosphere, with the helpful attitude of the official and the professionalism of the interpreter, our business was soon completed.

The Bangor experiment is working well and plans are afoot to arrange several similar set-ups around the province, where deaf people will be able to seek confidential help and advice on a multitude of problems.

But what about a visit to the doctor in his consulting room? Could similar arrangements be made?

Few doctors have the time or inclination to go for deaf awareness training and some deaf people maintain that the health of their bodies is a private matter and are, therefore, reluctant to use even the most skilled and trustworthy of interpreters.

Under arrangements between the HSSB and the RNID, deaf people around the province can now claim an interpreter's help for a visit to hospital, to see their local GP and even for a dental appointment or a visit to the optician.

There is no cost to the deaf person, although the shortage of qualified interpreters compels us to make the booking a long time ahead.

Could an arrangement such as they have at CAB be made to work in medical situations, with a doctor volunteering to undergo special training in sign language and deaf awareness and setting aside one morning a week to treat deaf patients only with the help of an interpreter? Such a doctor would be inundated!

I've been looking at a recent guide for deaf people in hospital and it says that deaf patients who are to have an operation should be allowed to keep their hearing aid up to the point of anaesthesia, as it can be distressing to them to lose their communication link at a critical moment.

The guide emphasises that finger spelling is easy to learn but sign language is harder and it can be dangerous for hospital staff to use their own home-made signs.

It points out that a qualified interpreter is needed for serious instructions for people who can only use sign language and who are not too happy with the written word.

There is an obvious need to befriend deaf people in hospital as we all need company and conversation.

Nurses may not have time, but all patients want to know about their progress and deaf people are no exception.

Staff should be given some instruction in the best way to communicate with the different degrees of hearing loss.

The booklet states that five out of every 100 patients have defective hearing and a patient who appears too ill or too injured to talk may well be deaf.

It recommends that the degree of the patient's deafness be noted on his or her medical papers, as, when this information is included on the papers attached to the bed, it will save repeated explanations to doctors, nurses and visitors.

© 2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd