For many people seeking health information, accessing it can be as easy as a Google search or watching a YouTube video. But for the deaf and hearing impaired, there are barriers in trying to access that same information, which can ultimately lead to poorer health outcomes.

Public health researchers who are working to break down those barriers shared their findings at a Wednesday session on “Health Needs of People Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing.”

Susan HaverkampBecause most deaf Americans claim American Sign Language as their first language and English as their second, it becomes harder for this population to communicate issues to their health care providers, said Susan Haverkamp, program manager of health promotion and health care parity at Ohio State University’s Nisonger Center. Research shows the deaf community is more likely to suffer from chronic health issues, such as asthma, as well as spend more days in bed because of illness and injury, she said.

“Many of the health messages out for the general population — (public service announcements) — may not be accessible to this population,” Haverkamp told attendees. “We would expect lower rates of health literacy. And research has shown they’re almost seven times as likely to receive inadequate health literacy.”

Haverkamp and her fellow researchers adapted a Chronic Disease Self-Management Program for people with disabilities for the deaf population. The six-week pilot program is centered on small group workshops in which facilitators, with the help of an interpreter, deliver health information to eight deaf Ohioans. While participant satisfaction was high, Haverkamp said the need to have a small group leader fluent in American Sign Language, rather than use an interpreter, is critical. There was also a call to include more deaf community-specific content, such as how to advocate for rights and make accommodation requests to health care providers, she reported.

Accommodation is the motivation of Debra Guthmann’s project to evaluate the health of the hearing impaired.

Guthmann and her fellow researchers are in year three of a five-year project to adapt mental health and substance abuse assessment tools for the hearing impaired. Dedicating to getting it right, the researchers video record an American Sign Language interpretation of the survey text, which is then shown to deaf people who type what they see in English. What they type is crosschecked with the original survey text to check for inconsistencies. The process is repeated until there is a version of a survey for the hearing impaired that is comparable to one for those who aren’t, she said.

One inventory on depression, for example, has over 100 videos, said Guthmann, the director of pupil personnel services at the California School of the Deaf.

About 1,000 deaf Americans in 48 states are now field testing these surveys, according to fellow researcher Jared Embree, a research associate at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

“There are a number of people who communicate in different manners in the deaf community, either regionally different or there are different levels of language, which makes it challenging,” Guthmann told attendees. “Just because it’s translated into that language doesn’t mean it’s going to fit everyone’s needs.”

Susan Haverkamp discussed reaching deaf communities with critical health information during a Wednesday session. Photo by Natalie McGill/courtesy The Nation’s Health