The North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM), in collaboration with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), has released a report with 14 recommendations for health care providers, state agencies, advocacy organizations, professional associations, and health care payers to assure more accessible communication for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in all health care and long-term settings.
There are approximately 1.2 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals in North Carolina who have varying levels of hearing, cultural identities, and communication methods. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires the provision of communication accommodations for individuals with disabilities, including those with hearing loss.
But individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing often face significant barriers to receiving effective communication accommodations (sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, etc.) in health care settings (inpatient, outpatient, hospitals, long-term care, etc.). Reasons for these barriers include providers and medical staff not having the requisite knowledge of what is required of them by federal law and regulations, and assumptions that a “one size fits all” approach to effective communication is appropriate in most situations. When facing barriers to effective communication, Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals are often unable to successfully navigate health care systems and advocate for the accommodations to which they are entitled under federal law.
Adam Zolotor, President and CEO of the NCIOM, stated, “It is disappointing to hear story after story, corroborated by survey research data, about the ways in which health care providers fail to effectively communicate with Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. Effective communication is not always easy or cheap, but it is required under the ADA and it is the right thing to do to assure safe and high-quality care.”
To address these barriers, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DSDHH), partnered with NCIOM to convene a Task Force on Access to Health Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The task force, made up of stakeholders and experts from across the state, made important recommendations to improve communication for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, such as the formation of a statewide coalition to increase understanding of disability civil rights law and improve communication access in health care settings and for hospitals and health systems to complete uniform self-assessments of their interpreting and communication access policies for quality improvement purposes.
Jan Withers, Director of the Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, part of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, noted, “This task force addresses in a comprehensive, systematic manner what has long been viewed by people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing as major barriers to their health care that are unique to this population. It is exciting to see key health care organizations committed to working in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services in implementing the task force’s recommendations to ensure North Carolinians who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing have the access to health care they need.”
The recommendations of the NCIOM Task Force on Access to Health Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing call on health care providers, state agencies, advocacy organizations, professional associations, and health care payers to collaborate in educational, self-assessment, and evaluation efforts across health care settings to increase access to effective communication for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in North Carolina.
The North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) is an independent, quasi-state agency that was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1983 to provide balanced, nonpartisan information on issues of relevance to the health of North Carolina’s population. For more information, visit www.nciom.org.