In our region, and nationwide in fact, persons who are Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing are grossly underserved by both the physical health and the behavioral health care system. Persons with any level of hearing loss often have difficulty accessing health related information. In many cases, the patient as well as the health care provider who may provide service to them, is unaware of laws that mandate the provision of accommodations in the health care setting so that all persons have equal access to health related information.
In 2004, a group called the Behavioral Health Task Force of Allegheny County for Persons who are Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing was formed to begin to address disparities in behavioral health care for all persons with hearing loss. The membership of the task force is comprised of advocates, consumers, educators, health care providers, payers, members of the community, audiologists, interpreters and representatives from county and state government.
This group received funds from the Allegheny County Office of Behavioral Health and from Community Care Behavioral Health to coordinate a series of focus groups that were completed in 2008. The focus groups were comprised of persons who are culturally Deaf, hard of hearing and Deaf-Blind and providers who serve the population regularly. Participants in the ten focus groups unanimously reported a lack of access to health related information, and a general lack of awareness about how to access appropriate accommodations in the health care setting. A lack of health related information was unanimously viewed as both frustrating and potentially dangerous. Many focus group members in fact, reported that they felt “defeated” in their quest to seek health care. Participants suggested that it would be a good idea to establish a web site where local residents could learn more about area health and social service programs.
The Task Force decided to partner with professors from the University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health and with web developer David Fulmer to begin to raise awareness about the unique needs of this population in the health care setting. The information in the web site will offer accessible health related information to all persons who are Deaf, Deafblind or hard of hearing. The web site will also include a section for health care providers as well. The web site will include information on physical health, behavioral health, communication and advocacy related issues.
The web site will provide an “Accomodations Card” template through which a wallet-size card specifying accommodations needed for an individual for effective communication in the health care setting can be printed. There will also be articles and links about a chosen health topic each month. Behavioral and physical health care information will be provided in both English and in American Sign Language.
We hope that you find the site to be beneficial and informative. If there are specific issues that you would like us to address, please let us know.
The initial funds for this project have been generously provided by The Staunton Farms Foundation and The Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Western Pennsylvania Health Information Team for People who are Deaf, Deafblind and Hard-of-Hearing