womansigningIn the medical field there are numerous professionals, yet each holds the respect not to do the other's job duties, and therefore consults with one another when working with clients. A nurse knows his or her limitations and would never diagnose, operate nor prescribe meds even though he or she may feel qualified. Therefore, wouldn't it make sense that a professional medical staff that has some knowledge in sign language should know their limits as well? Keep in mind that if the staff signer had efficient skills to interpret then he would hold certification. Until then, he is considered a liability to the medical facility.


Miscommunication is always a problem. However, between the deaf and hearing it is rampant and creates mistrust among the deaf. Contrary to most beliefs, sign language is not English, signers tend to sign in an English format and for this reason well meaning volunteers signers taking of professional interpreting assignments can end up creating miscommunication leading to serious implications to the medical facility. Even though a signer may sign, that does not mean he can "interpret" adequately. Much communication breakdown easily occurs between untrained signers and, therefore, the state has constructed ridged guidelines to measure comprehension skills and strict confidentiality restrictions among certified interpreters. Well-intended signers all too often miscommunicate common terms and idioms, and far too often the realization of the miscommunication can easily go undetected. Therefore, it is imperative that non-certified staff should never interpret medical situations. However, these individuals who signs on a non professional level can be most helpful when offering friendly customer services skills to the patient and leave medical communications up to the proven professionals concerning sign language interpreters.

Who Pays for Interpreting Services?

Up until recently each medical facility paid 100%. However, Sign of the Times is happy to bring to your attention that, as of September 1, 2005 legislation passed HB3235 stating Medicare will provide funding for sign language interpreting in medical situations. The American Disabilities Act of 1990 continues to hold the medical facility responsible for accommodating the deaf and hearing-impaired, and in situations where Medicare does not cover the individual, medical facilities will be expected to budget the accommodations. It is believed that soon the insurance industry will follow Medicare in providing these accommodations. We at Sign of the Times saw the need to ensure the deaf were accommodated in medical situations and, therefore, lobbied sister Bills SB 214 and HB3235 until the House Bills were finally passed in July of 2005. We are excited to share this news with you and request you aid us in getting the word out. For your convenience, Sign of the Times is available 24 hours a day!

How to accommodate the deaf in medical situations:

Deaf people vary in individual needs concerning accommodations. ADA requires accommodation by providing means of effective communication... Much to often, the wording is misunderstood to mean one can accommodate by using non-certified signers for accommodating or equally ineffective would be writing notes to a deaf person who signs in ASL.

The only way to know how to best accommodate is to ask. The staff that has limited experience with the needs and the language barriers of the deaf and hearing-impaired cannot assume the answer. Remember: What works great for one deaf individual may not for another. Keep in mind sign language is not English, and uncertified signers tend to arrange signs in the English order. They are usefully with lighthearted conversations, however, communication in medical situations must be valued as high priority. If the medical facility prides themselves on professionalism, when communications with ASL signers will require trained and state-recognized, competent interpreters.

How to calm down a deaf client in an emergency situation:

In emergency situations a deaf person may become excited with the overwhelming sense of not understanding due to communication breakdown. Under stress they may tend to lose control and be somewhat demanding concerning accommodations. Please write a simple note asking if they need an interpreter. If that is what they are requesting then just write back, short and simple terms "you will contact a certified interpreter, please wait". Once you make the arrangements please let the deaf person know the interpreter is on the way. This will tend to relieve tensions and let him or her know the medical community is a deaf-friendly environment, and allow him or her to regain confidence in the staff.

When a deaf client enters the hospital the following tips should be followed:

Ask the deaf client how you can accommodate him. Would he prefer to communicate by writing notes, or by a sign interpreter? If when writing notes you notice the deaf person is writing in broken English, that is an indication that you need a qualified interpreter. Note writing would be in the English order and in conflict with ASL (American Sign Language), which is the language of a high percentage of the deaf community. Hard of hearing people may prefer to write notes.

In emergency situations, and due to a high risk of miscommunication, it is best not to use uncertified interpreters.

If the deaf client is with a hearing family member or friend who is signing for him, do not assume that he does not need an interpreter. If he requests an interpreter, this suggests signing limitations leading to miscommunication or confidentiality concerns. Under HIPPA, un-certified interpreters may create additional liabilities.

Special Note: Deaf family members tend to talk for the deaf and make decisions that in time can create liabilities. Some deaf are reliable on their hearing love ones and trust their decisions. Since the family members usually are limited in their signing ability and cannot adequately interpret they tend to persuade the deaf or make the decision for them and in time if the deaf person becomes disgruntled with the outcome of the decision they can claim they did not have clear, effective, non-biased communication.


Sign of the Times

254.756.SIGN (7446)
100 N 6th St, Ste 503
Waco, TX 76701
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