By: JOYCEANN FILECCIA PhD, RN, CNS, LCPC, LCCC
As I walked into the emergency department to interpret for a Deaf patient, I saw him sitting on a gurney in the hallway. The doctor was yelling at him in an attempt to increase his comprehension. With exaggerated speech and gesturing, the physician thrust the consent form into the patient’s hands yelling, “Here, read this and sign it.” While simultaneously using American Sign Language (ASL) and voice, I introduced myself to the patient and physician as the ASL interpreter. The doctor turned to me and asked, “What? Is he stupid or something that he can’t read, understand, and sign the form without an interpreter present?” Situations like this show the cultural chasm that divides health care providers (HCPs) and the culturally Deaf. Although the need for specialized services for cultural and linguistic minorities is becoming more recognized, health care disparities that impede equal access to care exist because of lack of understanding. HCPs must consider the Deaf as representative of a linguistic minority HCPs must realize that Deaf people do not define their inability to hear as a pathological problem that necessitates medical or nursing intervention. Rather than an audiological deficit, Deafness is a distinct identity. Deaf people consider themselves proud members of a diverse Deaf community stemming from their rich and culturally Deaf heritage (Kluth, 2006).