We The Deaf People

20. Emergency Communication Access

For Deaf people in medical emergencies, clear communication between medical personnel and Deaf patients is of crucial importance. A number of hospitals have, as a cost-saving expedient, purchased networked TTYs or roll out video-remote interpreting.

In VRI, the interpreter is stationed off-site and appears on a video monitor, a TV screen. Interpreting is done real-time, but Deaf people using VRI have complained about the poor picture quality, and staffers entrusted with the task of bringing in the monitor may or may not know how to do the hookup properly.

Networked TTYs are linked-keyboard texting devices with electronic readouts that (supposedly) facilitate communication between patient and nonsigning staff. They do not take the place of interpreters.

Neither of these is satisfactory in emergencies. There are times when the best and only option is a live qualified interpreter. A Deaf patient in pain should not be required to type into a networked TTY. A VRI display may be blurry and all but visually unintelligible. These expedients put an unnecessary burden on the Deaf patient.

We maintain that Deaf patients (and Deaf members of a hearing patient’s immediate family) have a right to the highest quality of live, on-site, professional interpreting. Networked TTYs and VRI may be okay in a pinch, as a temporary “Band-Aid” solution, used for a short time until the live interpreter arrives, but in emergency situations, a Deaf patient should be provided with an interpreter without undue delay.

There are still an unknown number of medical professionals who have refused interpreters for Deaf patients, and this is why we have seen a steady trickle of ADA-related lawsuits against hospitals, medical centers, clinics, and private practices. It is much better, and easier, in the long run, to prevent such lawsuits than see them proceed through the justice system, in all their agonizing, time-consuming, money-consuming detail. Most of the Deaf plaintiffs have lost their suits; only a minority can be considered victories.

Our position:

We affirm that all Deaf patients have the right to clear, unimpeded communication access in medical settings, and that they have a right to qualified professional interpreters in emergency situations.

See also: Medical Services