Team to evaluate deaf, hard-of-hearing service

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

Imagine your child has been hit by a car. The doctor finally enters the emergency waiting room with news of her condition. Now imagine you can't hear what the doctor is saying.

For deaf and hard of hearing persons in B.C. this may have been a typical scenario until last October when the Supreme Court of Canada guaranteed access to free confidential medical interpreting services.

UBC's Institute for Hearing Accessibility Research (IHEAR) and a research team comprising students and faculty have been selected to evaluate B.C.'s program, called the Medical Interpreting Service (MIS).

"This is an exciting project for us because it is community-based and deals with a landmark innovation," says Assoc. Prof. Kathleen Pichora-Fuller, IHEAR's director and head of the research team.

"We expect a number of research questions will flow from the evaluation. We also hope to contribute to the design of curricula for students in the health and human services programs at UBC who might work with deaf and hard of hearing people."

Launched by the Ministry of Health as a one-year pilot, the MIS is the first provincially funded program of its kind in Canada. Twenty-four part-time interpreters responded to almost 300 requests for service across B.C. in the first three months of the program.

Before the launch of the MIS program, most deaf and some hard of hearing persons relied on family members or hastily written notes to convey medical details.

"The court's decision demonstrates that communication is considered to be a right, not a frill," says Pichora-Fuller.

The Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WIDHH), which administers the program, estimates one out of 10 people in B.C. -- 490,000 -- are hard of hearing or deaf. About 5,000 individuals would benefit from sign language interpreters.

Researchers will look at MIS from the perspective of a variety of stakeholders: deaf and hard of hearing persons, health-care providers, interpreters and staff at MIS and hospital diversity offices.

"IHEAR is able to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to this project," says Marilyn Dahl, executive director of WIDHH. "The interaction between academics and consumers is key to a comprehensive assessment."

The team aims to find out if MIS users gain a better understanding of the immediate health problem. They will also look at the long-term effect of being able to communicate on health issues and whether it encourages deaf and hard of hearing persons to use health services.

Research team member Janet Jamieson will consult the consumers of MIS, including deaf and hard of hearing persons and, where applicable, their caregivers.

Jamieson, an associate professor in Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education, is fluent in a number of forms of visual language communication.

The evaluation will use questionnaires, focus groups, personal interviews and a telephone hotline which is both voice and TTY-activated to gather information from patients and caregivers. TTY is a
telephone device for the deaf that enables communication in print format.

"We worked closely with members of the deaf community to develop evaluation tools that are fully accessible to all deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing persons," says Jamieson.

Ruth Warick, a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education, will evaluate MIS from the perspective of about 50 interpreters.

Warick, who is hard of hearing, will address issues such as interpreting in confidential medical situations and the technical demands of translating medical terminology into sign language.

Training issues will also be explored. A new program to train medical interpreters has been set up at Douglas College.

Asst. Prof. Bill McKellin, a medical anthropologist, will look at the social and cultural connections between deaf and hard of hearing patients and the medical culture of hearing staff in health-care settings.

Glynnis Tidball, a recent graduate of the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences will co-ordinate the evaluation project. Anne Marie Roberts, an Arts undergraduate student, Special Education doctoral student Brenda Poon and Anthropology master's student Tracy-Anne Northey are the team's research assistants.

IHEAR was established in 1994 as an interdisciplinary centre for research, training, and service in the area of hearing accessibility.