Communication Access for Deaf People in Healthcare Settings: Understanding the Work of American Sign Language Interpreters

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Abstract

Despite federal laws that mandate equal access and communication in all healthcare settings for deaf people, consistent provision of quality interpreting in healthcare settings is still not a reality, as recognized by deaf people and American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreters. The purpose of this study was to better understand the work of ASL interpreters employed in healthcare settings, which can then inform on training and credentialing of interpreters, with the ultimate aim of improving the quality of healthcare and communication access for deaf people. Based on job analysis, researchers designed an online survey with 167 task statements representing 44 categories. American Sign Language interpreters (N = 339) rated the importance of, and frequency with which they performed, each of the 167 tasks. Categories with the highest average importance ratings included language and interpreting, situation assessment, ethical and professional decision making, manage the discourse, monitor, manage and/or coordinate appointments. Categories with the highest average frequency ratings included the following: dress appropriately, adapt to a variety of physical settings and locations, adapt to working with variety of providers in variety of roles, deal with uncertain and unpredictable work situations, and demonstrate cultural adaptability. To achieve health equity for the deaf community, the training and credentialing of interpreters needs to be systematically addressed.

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