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June 27, 2005

NCI project bridges communication gap

From: Gallaudet - Jun 27, 2005

For more information, contact:
Darrick Nicholas
Media Relations Coordinator, Gallaudet University
PH: 202.448.7136

NCI Project Bridges Communication Gap
San Diego medical students take part in ASL immersion class at Gallaudet University

WASHINGTON – This summer as part of the Deafness and Cancer Project, medical students from the University of California at San Diego's [UCSD] Moores Cancer Center will be on the Gallaudet campus learning American Sign Language [ASL], particularly how to use it in clinical settings, and developing an understanding of and appreciation for Deaf Culture.

This project is funded by a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. The purpose is to equip medical students with the communication skills and cultural sensitivities necessary for providing quality health care to deaf cancer patients whose primary language is ASL.

Many deaf people tell of having bad experiences with doctors who assume that: 1. deaf people can lip-read everything said to them [Wrong. Only about 30% of the English vocabulary can be lip-read even by the most accomplished lip-readers.]; 2. note-writing between deaf patients and their physician is sufficient [In reality it's a most unsatisfactory way to communicate about complicated, emotionally-packed issues such as serious illness.]; or 3. sign language interpreters are the best way for accurate and timely communication to occur between deaf and hearing people [Granted, this is a lot better than either 1. or 2., but often deaf people find it extremely uncomfortable to talk about deeply personal issues, such as serious illness, through interpreters.].
The Deafness and Cancer Project benefits both patients and doctors because it makes possible direct communication between the two. Part of the program requires students to participate in a four-week intensive immersion program at Gallaudet University, the nation's leading university for deaf students and for the study of American Sign Language and Deaf Culture. The hope is that other medical schools across the country will adopt the UCSD model.

"This program has the potential to greatly improve the health care of deaf individuals," said Gallaudet Associate Professor Linda Lytle, coordinator of the Gallaudet portion of the program. "There is no substitute for direct and easy communication between doctor and patient."

The benefits of physicians who serve deaf patients and can communicate with them in ASL are clearly visible at Georgetown University's Kids Clinic for the Deaf. Dr. Rachel St. John, the clinic's director, not only signs fluently, she also holds a Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling from Gallaudet.

A welcome reception for the eight UCSD students attending the Gallaudet sign language and deaf culture immersion program and Dr. St. John from Georgetown University will occur Thursday, June 30, 2005 from 3 p.m. - 5 p.m. on the Gallaudet campus. Media are invited to attend.

About Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University is the world leader in liberal education and career development for deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduate students. The University enjoys an international reputation for the outstanding graduate programs it provides deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing students, as well as for the quality of the research it conducts on the history, language, culture, and other topics related to deaf people. In addition, the University's Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center serves deaf and hard-of-hearing children at its two demonstration schools and throughout the nation by developing, implementing, and disseminating innovative educational strategies. Gallaudet is located in Washington, DC.