21. Equal Access to Medical Services
Deaf people are just as susceptible to illness and health crises as anyone else, but traditionally have not received equal services. One disturbing and common scenario, long practiced by hospitals and clinics, is to make the Deaf patient wait as long as three months for an appointment, the extreme delay being necessary, as the staffer explains, so that an interpreter can be scheduled. Hearing patients, on the other hand, when contacting the hospital or clinic for an appointment, are scheduled immediately—no undue delay. They’re told to come in tomorrow; we’re told to come in later in the year.
This situation is now being challenged, as it represents a glaring injustice. A three-months’ wait is not the maximum, either. We know of one Deaf man who was experiencing severe back pain and was compelled to wait for a year to be examined and treated. Other Deaf people have similar horror stories, to share, and the hospitals have just begun to listen to them.
If you were experiencing symptoms of cancer, would you want to wait three months for your appointment? We know of no one who does. Yet this is how Deaf people have traditionally fared.
We do not believe that it is unreasonable for medical facilities to have qualified interpreters on call, or to make arrangements with an interpreter agency whereby interpreters can cover appointments that are made promptly. Forty-eight hours is the minimum wait, but we believe that urban hospitals should have qualified interpreters on staff. These staffers can work as bookkeepers, therapists, assistants, and so forth, so that they’re employed and busy full-time, but will be available whenever a Deaf patient needs an interpreter. This is a cost-effective solution for the hospital.
As for the problem of delaying appointments, this is not an insuperable or agonizingly difficult one for the medical facility to resolve. It requires a bit of thought, planning, and attention. If medical facilities can treat hearing patients promptly, they can treat Deaf patients promptly too.
Delaying appointments because of the scarcity of interpreters is unethical and unjust. We consider it malpractice. Deaf patients deserve prompt treatment and qualified interpreters.
See also: 9-1-1 Communications