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Pain or illness can be tough to articulate even when spoken in the same language. Describing pain to a healthcare provider in an emergency room means choosing between a series of specific, but highly subjective words — is it sharp, dull, burning or throbbing? Now, imagine how much the gap in communication multiplies for a hard-of-hearing patient who hasn’t been provided with an ASL interpreter.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), hospitals must provide effective means of communication for patients, family members, and hospital visitors who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. However, hospital settings are brimming with reported struggles to meet the communication needs of the hard-of-hearing patient population.

Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf mentions that hospitals, medical centers, and doctors’ offices are the “worst in failing to provide effective communications to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.” These reasons often include that interpreters take hours to arrive and then aren’t present through the duration of the visit. Others note that remote translation, conducted via a video service, often includes glitches like freezing screens or problems of obstruction. This was the case for Laura Miller, who was unable to see the video screen while on her back as she delivered her child.

”Communication is very critical so medical providers can understand what patients need and patients can understand what kind of care is being provided to them. Without that information the providers are operating in the dark, and that can have devastating consequences for the patients and increase liability for hospitals.” said Kelby Brick, Director of the Governor’s Office of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing in Maryland. Miscommunications may lead to misdiagnosis and improper or delayed medical treatment.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative in 2012 with the goal of making sure people with disabilities, particularly the Deaf and hard of hearing, are provided medical information in a manner understandable to them. Making medicine accessible is essential to providing effective care.

Hospitals who have been more attune to serving the communication needs of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing patient populations tend to report use of both live and video translation. However, the key is in knowing that many situations require a live translator, such as during the delivery of a baby. Sinai and Northwest Hospitals, both owned by LifeBridge Health, use interpreters from the We Interpret agency. They request interpreters in advance for appointments and call in people for emergency situations.

In hospital and emergency situations, ASL interpreters are a lifeline for the hard-of-hearing patient. Without the ability to communicate, these patients are in a frightful situation where their health is reliant on understanding what may only be bits of a sentence. ASL interpreters can be the difference in life or death, comfort or fear for a hard-of-hearing individual in the hospital. “I cannot imagine trying to go to a doctor for yourself or your children and not being able to understand what is going on,” said Camilla Roberson, a staff attorney with the Public Justice Center. “I just think it’s wrong.”

William Woods University Bachelor’s in ASL Studies and Bachelor’s in Interpretation Studies graduates gain a greater understanding of Deaf culture and learn essentials to succeed in specialties, such as medical translation services. Through the William Woods program, you will gain practicum experiences in medical settings. A number of ASL alumni work and interpret at Fulton State Hospital.

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The U.S. unemployment rate is an issue that always garners much attention from politicians, with promises of more jobs and news outlets frequently reporting national trends. There is one sub set of the unemployed population however, that does not receive as much attention, and that is the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

According to Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), 70 percent of Deaf people are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are involuntarily working part-time or are overqualified for their current position.

Furthermore, of the Deaf and hard of hearing individuals that are or have recently been employed, 56 percent have faced discrimination during their career, resulting in one in four Deaf individuals leaving a job because of a difficult environment.

In fact, apart from the discrimination they may encounter as an employee, Deaf and hard of hearing individuals could find themselves facing challenges as early as the interview process.

“Deaf job seekers who use ASL as their primary form of communication are forced to decide whether they will hire their own interpreter for a job interview and pay out-of-pocket; or whether they will invoke their ADA right to have an interpreter provided by the company they are interviewing with,” explains Lydia Callis, nationally certified sign language interpreter and advocate for the Deaf community, in a Huffington Post article.

Though employers are legally required to provide interpreters for interviewees, many Deaf or hard of hearing job candidates are hesitant to exercise their ADA right for fear that they will seem like a burden to employers.

Even if the interview goes well and the Deaf or hard of hearing individual is offered the job, that unfortunately still doesn’t mean employers prepared a productive workplace for a diverse team; one designed for accessibility and equipped with a team of culturally competent employees. Creating a Deaf-friendly workplace begins with management, who sets the tone for how all employees should be treated.

“Cultural competency education is a critical piece of this puzzle,” Callis explains. “Cultural competency education helps erase stereotypes and assumptions, providing a foundational understanding of what it means to be Deaf, what accommodations Deaf individuals may need, and how to best connect across the language and cultural divide to most effectively collaborate when working with a diverse team.”

What if there was a company that not only accommodated Deaf employees, but was built with them in mind, through every step of their career from interview throughout employment?

Meet Mozzeria — a fully Deaf-owned and operated pizzeria in San Francisco. As one of a handful of Deaf-run businesses in the U.S., it gives customers the unique opportunity to be immersed in Deaf culture, as they interact with Deaf servers and learn to use American Sign Language to order off the menu.

Recognizing the pizzeria’s success in both educating non-ASL speakers and reducing the unemployment rate in the Deaf community, CSD recently announced that they will be making a major investment in the Mozzeria business. These funds will allow Mozzeria to expand its brand, “becoming the first-of-its-kind Deaf-run restaurant franchise, developing training materials in American Sign Language,” reports an article in Eater San Francisco.

William Woods students pursuing their bachelors in ASL studies or bachelors in interpretation studies in ASL will take courses like ASL 101: Career Seminar in ASL Studies, which is designed to introduce non-Deaf students to various professions with and in service to Deaf people. This, in addition to courses they take in Deaf Culture and Ethics and Decision Making will provide students with a deeper understanding of the realities Deaf and hard of hearing individuals face in their daily life and careers, and position them to become advocates for accessibility and equal opportunity for the Deaf community.

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Paula Garfield spent 15 years as an actress, and for most of that time she was the only Deaf professional she knew working within a “mainstream” theatre company. Garfield became increasingly frustrated with the barriers that Deaf actors and directors face in the arts, and even more so, the lack of theatre created by Deaf artists or with Deaf audiences in mind.

“Despite having a Deaf actor using sign language, the shows weren’t made accessible to Deaf audiences — Deaf friends who came to see me perform would always say how lovely it was to see me on stage but, not able to understand the hearing actors, they weren’t able to enjoy the production fully,” explained Garfield in an interview with Independent.

After experiencing a lack of Deaf awareness and bullying from others in the industry, at age 35, Garfield was ready to put a halt to her acting career completely when a friend encouraged her to apply for funding from the Arts Council in England to start her own Deaf-led theatre company. And from there Deafinitely Theatre was born — the UK’s first ever Deaf-led theatre company.

Fifteen years later, Deafinitely Theatre is still thriving, expanding Deaf awareness and increasing opportunities for Deaf people and BSL (British Sign Language) users in all areas of theatre production. “Our work has represented the richness and diversity of Deaf culture, and reinterpreted established ‘mainstream’ works from a Deaf perspective,” says Garfield.

Running a Deaf-led theatre company does not come without its challenges however. “I don’t have the privilege that hearing directors have of selecting from a wide range of actors,” Garfield explains. “I cannot just cast anyone – they have to have the skills to carry the story. Also, we have to think about how accessible the play is for a hearing audience, something I have to consider throughout rehearsals.”

While mainstream theatre companies can rehearse as normal and then add an interpreter on stage near the end of the process, Garfield must work twice as hard when considering accessibility for hearing audiences.

Some companies in the surrounding area seek to make their productions more accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing people, such as Act Two Theatre in St. Peters, Missouri that puts on special events called Deaf Night at the Theatre, where interpreters are available at the box office, concession stands, usher stations and up on stage interpreting the performance itself. However, while this shift towards accessibility is moving in the right direction, there are still very few Deaf-led theatre companies in the U.S. and around the world.

The National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) is one of the few, and it is also the first American professional Deaf theatre group, founded in 1967. The group has made tremendous strides for Deaf theatre over the past 50 plus years, winning a Tony Award and touring the country and the world. You can see a list of NTD’s ongoing productions here and learn more about opportunities to book NTD for a performance in a venue near you.

William Woods University is home to a nationally ranked ASL degree program, as well as a growing theatre program that encourages students of all backgrounds to get involved. Deaf and hard of hearing students, or those interested in becoming an ASL interpreter for a theatre performance can visit the Theatre Department at William Woods, or explore opportunities offered by several on-campus theatre clubs.

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People with an understanding of ASL and Deaf culture are needed in nearly every field to help communicate with Deaf and hard of hearing people and ensure access for everyone.

Did you ever think about how you could combine ASL Studies with another area?

Often, William Woods University ASL interpretation studies and ASL Studies students take on a second major in another field to pursue specializations, such as education, theatre or psychology.

These are just a few examples of areas with documented shortages in recent years, and even more specifically, fields with fewer professionals who possess competencies in two specific areas, such as Deaf education and school psychology, said Felicia Castro-Villarreal, associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Educational Psychology in a recent press release.

Castro-Villarreal’s program at UTSA was a recent recipient of a $147,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to UTSA for its Deaf Education and Educational Psychology (or DEEP) Learning in Texas Project — a five-year graduate program that will be used to train new school psychologists that specialize in Deaf education, as well as teachers of the Deaf in how to apply principles of educational psychology in their work with children.

“The DEEP project seeks to address this professional need and also increase teacher quality by preparing teachers of the deaf and school psychologists who will provide effective, high-quality instruction and related services to children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families,” said Castro-Villarreal.

There are also several practice areas for ASL interpreters in which taking courses in those areas may help you sharpen your expertise as well as give you a taste of that world so you can decide if it’s really right for you.

Here are a few focus areas we’ve covered in previous blogs:

Additionally, you can pursue a second bachelor of science degree in Deaf Human Services, a new William Woods University degree program that will be offered to both traditional and online students beginning fall semester of 2018. This degree is designed to meet the shortage of quality employees able to serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, a population significantly underserved at the local, state and national level.

If you do think there is a specific area you want to focus, or you want to gain some expertise by way of a second major, make sure you talk with your advisor for the best course of action for you. US News & World Report notes a couple of important tips for ensuring a double major is right for you, and developing a game plan — including starting early, mapping it out, and making every class count.

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It is not uncommon that William Woods University students and graduates of the ASL Interpretation Studies bachelor’s degree program will work alongside Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) in their internship experiences and well into their professional career as ASL interpreters. But what exactly is a CDI, and what do they bring to the interpreting/communication experience?

What is a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI)?
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), explains that there are several circumstances and a broad range of assignments for ASL interpreters where someone who has native or near-native fluency in American Sign Language and an interpreter who is Deaf or hard-of-hearing would be beneficial. This is where Certified Deaf Interpreters come in.

According to RID, the CDI certification has been available through RID since 1998. Holders are Deaf or hard of hearing and “have demonstrated knowledge and understanding of interpreting, Deafness, the Deaf community, and Deaf culture. Holders have specialized training and/or experience in the use of gesture, mime, props, drawings and other tools to enhance communication.”

How the process works
In situations where a CDI is used, there will be a total of at least four participants in the chain of conversation: two interpreters, including a CDI and an ASL interpreter, and the Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual and the hearing person they are facilitating the conversation between. They format of the conversation goes as follows:

  1. Hearing person communicates his or her message to the ASL interpreter
  2. ASL interpreter takes the words of the hearing person and translates them into ASL for the CDI
  3. CDI then takes that information and interprets it for the Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual in a way he or she can understand
  4. The cycle then continues back up the chain in the opposite manor as the Deaf or hard of individual responds in the conversation

Why work with a CDI?
Those working toward national certification as a hearing interpreter and their bachelor’s degree in ASL interpreting may often work with CDIs as a beneficial addition to their interpreting team. According to interpreter and activist Lydia Callis, a CDI has the ability to reach ASL users on every level, which ensures that the message is conveyed to a broad audience.

“Because sign language is their native language, Deaf interpreters can communicate with Deaf consumers on a level that other interpreters just may not be able to get to. CDIs tend to be more intuitive when it comes to foreign sign languages, informal signs, and translating cross cultural messages,” writes Callis for the Huffington Post.

Reaching a broader audience
The article answers a question from a New York City press conference in which Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed residents concerning a public health question. In the conference, a hearing interpreter was signing a message to a CDI, who was then interpreting it onto the camera. Why use two interpreters? Callis explains that it helps get a message across in a large city like New York where there is a whole audience of foreign born Deaf people for whom ASL is a second language.

“Deaf interpreters come from a background of visual language, so they are able to ‘let go’ of the English form more easily,” Callis said.

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Forget emojis, American Sign Language is now accessible from your phone’s GIF app. Giphy, a leading provider of the short, looping image files has uploaded over 2,000 American Sign Language words and phrases for anyone to use and learn from.

The videos were cut from the popular ASL educational series Sign With Robert, with English text translations underneath.

According to a recent Mashable article, Wallis Millar-Blanchaer, a video artist at Giphy, and Stephanie Weber, a Giphy studios coordinator, first thought of the series while they were brainstorming how GIFs could be used to help facilitate a more inclusive type of education. The team chose to include words and phrases by looking at Giphy users’ top search terms, and they worked with Sign With Robert to ensure accuracy and comprehensiveness.

“GIFs, as a visual format untethered from audio, makes them a perfect medium for sign language,” Hilari Scarl, director and producer at Sign With Robert, told Mashable.

The GIFs are also organized within the Giphy site by category, and are also visible from the iPhones messaging gif app.

Because of the looping nature of the image file, the gifs serve as great practice for anyone looking to learn American sign language, ASL Studies degree students, or even some fun vocabulary for life-long ASL users.

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