This is a useful little book, which gives clear and sensible advice to hearing health workers who may know little about communicating with deaf people. The Introduction makes the important point that the book is not intended as a substitute for skilled communicators and interpreters. However, people using this book will have a positive attitude towards the deaf person, and initial communication barriers can be broken down. There is simple advice, such as ensuring good lighting and eye contact, and the importance of clear speech, simple written English, as well as a lexicon of useful sign vocabulary, and finger spelling The medical vocabulary is well chosen, but there are also terms in Mental Health settings that should be included. This book should be made widely available in health care settings, and perhaps feedback on its use could be incorporated in future editions. -- Dr Margaret du Feu and Adrian Harper of the National Deaf Mental Health Services, Birmingham, for The STANDARD, the newsletter of the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People, July 1999.
From the Author
a first step to breaking down communication barriers
Nowhere is effective human communication more crucial than in the field of health and medicine. Health is an important issue for everyone, but barriers to understanding can cause us to feel at our most vulnerable. Imagine taking ill in a country where you cant speak the language, and the distress and anxiety that this would cause. For deaf people in Britain today, such happenings can be a fact of life.
Through direct experience with deaf people (as a sign language interpreter) it is possible to witness first hand some of the obstacles that deaf people must face on a daily basis throughout their lives. The opportunities for deaf people to experience relaxed, easy communication in the hearing world are rare indeed, and yet this is not because people are callous or uncaring, but simply that they often dont know where to start. Most people would be horrified at the thought that they may be putting deaf people at risk through poor communication, but they lack the training and direction to help avoid this.
All misunderstandings, unintentional though they may be, are still potentially dangerous. A survey in February 1999 by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People found that deaf people are seriously at risk in medical settings because of communication barriers. Sign language interpreters have a crucial role, but may not always be available. In addition, many deaf people opt to go with a close friend or family member, or to go it alone, in spite of the difficulties, preferring to deal face to face with the practitioner concerned. Without having to use too much imagination, it is easy to see that deaf people are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to giving and receiving information such as may be involved in health and medical settings, and training for staff should be a priority.
From October of this year, the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 requires that all service providers (and this includes health care) take "reasonable steps" to change practices which make it impossible or difficult for disabled people to use a service. This has particular relevance for deaf people, since many cant even get as far as making an appointment due to communication difficulties at the point of reception. A further irony is that the paucity of communication channels makes it virtually impossible for deaf service users to use complaints procedures. Yet when it comes to communication, even a small amount of effort can make a world of difference.
A small book like this can only scratch the surface, but it is not just a book of signs. It is innovatory and packed with information about deafness and language, giving practical, basic communication advice for contact with all hard of hearing and deaf people, sign language users in particular. It is intended to improve awareness, change attitudes, and whet the appetite for more, especially through Deaf Awareness and sign language classes. Its format makes it immediately accessible and ready to hand, providing an important "first step".