Sign Language Interpreters Clear Barriers For Deaf, Hard-Of-Hearing Patients

Imagine being prepped for surgery and, as the doctor explains the procedure, you realize you can only understand 30 percent of the information. Without a clear understanding, you’re wheeled away.

It’s a terrifying thought, but for Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing individuals, only about 30 percent of what someone is saying can be understood through lip reading without an interpreter.

For Deaf or hard-of-hearing patients across Fairview, interpreters are a crucial and potentially life-saving aspect of patient-to-caregiver interaction.

Alleviating communication barriers = alleviating stress

While some may still think just lip reading is adequate, Missy Marsh, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services coordinator, says that’s not true.

“Hospitals can be intimidating enough,” she says.

Communication barriers—language or sign language—can lead to even more anxiety and stress, but Missy and other interpreters help to relieve that tension. She’s among our full-time American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters who meet with patients daily at multiple Fairview sites.

Missy is based at University of Minnesota Medical Center, where there are two full-time staff and five additional Fairview-employed per diem ASL interpreters.

In addition to being fluent in ASL, employed translators are nationally certified and have continuous education requirements for medical sign terminology. For patients, an ASL interpreter is available 24/7.

Being the ‘mouthpiece’ for emotion

Before ASL interpreters meet with patients, they’ll research a patient’s condition(s) and new terminology. If a physician hasn’t worked with an ASL interpreter, they’ll meet to explain the process.

When a patient signs toward a doctor, more than just information is translated—emotion plays a big part. Facial emotion is one of the most important parts of ASL, which means ASL interpreters transfer that emotion to their voice and then project that toward a doctor.

It can be physically and emotionally taxing, says Missy. Having to mimic emotion can sometimes lead to “vicarious trauma,” she says.

Regardless of all the emotion ASL interpreters field throughout the day, Missy says they form strong connections with the patients they serve.

“Whatever emotion is coming from that patient, for me as a sign language interpreter, must come through my voice as well,” she says.

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