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April 8, 2004

Communication Through Sign Language

From: - Charlotte,NC,USA - Apr 8, 2004

According to the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, one out of every ten Americans has a significant hearing loss. Those with profound hearing loss or deafness must rely on other means of communication, such as writing or sign language.

Sign language is a combination of visual cues used to communicate, like hand shape and positions, gestures and facial expressions. What we call American Sign Language (ASL) is believed to have originated mostly from French Sign Language (FSL). In 1817, a man named Laurent Clerc founded the first school for the deaf in Hartford, CT, using FSL to teach his students. Today, ASL is believed to be the third most commonly used language in the U.S. (after English and Spanish).

Sign language is not a universal language. ASL is very different from sign language used in non-English speaking communities. It's also different from British Sign Language. There are even regional variations in sign language, just as there are with spoken language.

Deaf Communication in the Hospital
People with profound hearing loss sometimes have a hard time communicating and interacting with those who can hear. The inability to communicate with medical providers may have adverse effects on health. In one study, researchers found deaf women were less likely to understand the importance of cancer screenings, appropriate use of prescription medications and the need for other types of medical intervention. In some cases, negative experiences with a health care provider (such as insensitivity or frustrations with communication) led patients to avoid getting proper medical care.

Under Title III of The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), health care providers must provide effective means of communication for all patients including those with hearing disabilities. Sometimes family members are called upon to act as interpreters. However, health experts say family members are biased toward the patient and may not provide an accurate interpretation. Family members are often not familiar with medical terminology and may relay misleading or incorrect information to the patient or physician. In addition, use of family may pose ethical problems in maintaining patient confidentiality.

Deaf-Talk Interpretation Service
Hospitals don't typically have deaf interpreters on staff and usually rely on on-call interpreters. However, precious time is lost while waiting for the interpreter to get to the hospital. Now, a company called Deaf-Talk is using technology to offer a new interpreting service to health care providers. The Deaf-Talk system is composed of a camera, microphone, computer/keyboard, monitor and portable cart. When needed, the system is wheeled into the room and hooked up to a phone line. The computer accesses an available interpreter, who signs for the patient and speaks for the physician. All interpreters meet the highest level of state standards and are knowledgeable with medical terminology.

Deaf-Talk is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The service is also prompt. In most cases, access to an interpreter is available within minutes (rather than what could be an hour or more for an on-call interpreter). Deaf-Talk can also be used to access an interpreter for non-English speaking patients. While Deaf-Talk can be an important service for hospitals, it will not be helpful for patients who are sight-impaired or don't know sign language.

For information about Deaf-Talk: Deaf-Talk LLC, 607 Washington St., Suite 302, Pittsburgh, PA 15228,

Source: Medstar

© 2004, WSOC.