Deaf patients struggle to get adequate interpreter services in ERs

For those of us with disabilities, access technology is key to our participation in life. It’s wonderful when I find public amenities that contain accessibility features. For example, I can now use talking machines to vote at the polls, and can get cash with the help of a talking ATM. These technologies give me the chance to vote and withdraw money privately, independently, and efficiently. Similarly, remote technology can allow a signing Deaf person to hold a conversation with a hearing person without having to bring an interpreter on-site, using the services of a remote sign language interpreter.

However, the technology is only as good as the humans operating it. One problem with access technology in public places is that because so few people use it, the people in charge of setting up the technology may not have practice setting it up when it is needed, or they may not notice maintenance problems in a timely fashion. Business owners and other managers of public accommodation may think they’ve covered their accessibility obligations by having the technology around, but may neglect the need for training and regular maintenance on the equipment. As a result, we may come to expect the technology, only to discover that it doesn’t work properly. There are other times when a piece of technology doesn’t meet our needs as well as a human assistant, for a variety of reasons.

When my voting machine or ATM doesn’t talk like it should, it’s an inconvenience. But imagine the stress involved in being a hospital patient and being unable to communicate with medical staff because the remote interpreting device isn’t working. As this article illustrates, failures in communication technology may explain, in part, the health disparities experienced by Deaf people and others with disabilities. It also illustrates that, sometimes, there is no substitute for the presence of face-to-face support.
Click here to read about some Deaf patients’ hospital experiences

Why Does Disability Surprise Us?

In 32 years of living with a visible disability, I’ve learned that my condition brings up many different emotions in people: fear, pity, and awe, to name a few. But there’s another common emotional reaction to disability that, I think, supports all the others: the reaction of surprise.

Sometimes people seem surprised to find us out on the streets. They’re shocked when we disclose our disability in the course of applying for a job, for school admission, or on an online dating site. We are sometimes socialized to pre-warn such people of our disability status before meeting them face-to-face, so we don’t just “surprise them” with the news. When I talk to parents whose infants are newly diagnosed with a disability, one of the most common things they say is “This wasn’t what we expected” or “we needed to change our expectations.”

But, why is this? When statistics show that 15-20% of human beings have a disability, why is encountering someone with a disability, either a stranger or a new addition to your family, so unexpected and surprising?

I don’t know the answer to this. I suspect that, at least in part, our surprise is a consequence of our denial. In some ways, we may be either hard-wired or taught to fear becoming disabled in much the same way we fear our own death. And, if we are motivated to deny the possibility that we might become disabled someday, we may also extend that thinking to the belief that disability in others isn’t all that common. When we encounter a person with a disability, we may be motivated to see that person as an unusual oddity rather than an ordinary human being. This way of thinking makes it more difficult for us to acknowledge the fact that or our own children, employees, friends or romantic partners could be disabled.

As a consequence of this collective surprise, when a disabled person does arrive on the scene, we may end up scrambling and fumbling to accommodate that person. Whereas, if we expected disability from the outset, we could build our systems from the ground up so that they are fully accessible to people of all abilities. For example, all too often employers find themselves having to figure out how to make their company’s computer hardware and software accessible when a blind person is hired, rather than simply buying accessible software ahead of time in the event that a blind employee (or, really, anyone who might not work well with graphics-based technology) is hired in the future.

So, I challenge you not to be surprised by disability. Instead, expect it. Expect that 15-20% of the people you will meet will have some physical or mental difference that affects their ability to access one or more environments. Expect that the people with whom you interact may have differing needs or strengths. Don’t be surprised if someone in your workplace, school, family, social circle, or anywhere else has a disability, perhaps one you didn’t notice at first. Their revelation doesn’t affect their belonging in that social space. It doesn’t mean that their successes are somehow inspiring or unusual. It just means that they may do some things in a different way. Perhaps once we start to think of disability as regular and mundane, we may find it easier to accept those who have disabilities as ordinary people.

The Top Ten Advantages of Dating Sighted and Blind People

I first read this brief article (reprinted below) when I was seventeen and in high school. At that time I hadn’t started dating yet, and didn’t know much about the concrete details of dating. Like many teens I often thought about dating and, of course, the related physical activities. Although I had always been told I could fall in love and marry someone if I wanted to, I was also beginning to wonder if my blindness would hold me back from this goal. Many sighted guys seemed to look right past me as a possible partner. Some of the guys in my circle of friends were blind, and in some ways, dating a blind guy seemed less complicated. But, I got the sense that many people expected me to end up with someone sighted, who could “take care” of me. It made me doubt what I could bring to a relationship.

This article gave me hope that dating and marriage were things I could look forward to as a blind woman. It also makes the point that a partner’s disability or lack thereof has little to do with the quality of a relationship.

Since reading this article, I have dated both blind and sighted men. The man I married is sighted. I am happy to say I have experienced nearly all of the positives listed for both types of relationships. Each relationship was its own adventure, and in each case, my partner’s blindness, or mine, has had little impact on the course of the relationship.

I found this article a few years ago in my old files, and shared it with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. We had just started living together at the time. I emailed him the article, and that night he “accidentally, on purpose” kissed me on the nose. I suppose that was his way of assuring me that he may be sighted, but he’s still “blind at heart”, which in many blind circles, is a high honor.

The author of this article, Priscilla McKinley, passed away in 2010. She was a writer, teacher, and advocate for access and inclusion. I was glad for the opportunity to meet her at an NFB convention just before I started college. I am reprinting her words so they can continue to inspire others.

The Top Ten Advantages of Dating Sighted and Blind people

By Priscilla McKinley


From time to time at NFB conventions and other gatherings of blind people, someone raises the question whether it is preferable to date a blind person or a sighted person. This list shows that there are certain advantages either way you look at it.
10. Dating a sighted person means you have a sighted guide when some idiot smashes into you and breaks your cane on your way to class.
Dating a blind person means you have a spare cane when some idiot smashes into you and breaks your cane on your way to class.
9. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to keep you from kissing a nose instead of the lips.
Dating a blind person means you don’t care if you give or get a kiss on the nose instead of the lips.
8. Dating a sighted person means you can take drives in the country on weekends.
Dating a blind person means you can have private NFB conventions on weekends.
7. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to blame when you collide in the hall.
Dating a blind person means it’s no one’s fault when you collide in the hall.
6. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to describe what’s going on during the silent moments of a movie.
Dating a blind person means you have time to get popcorn or go to the bathroom during the silent moments of a movie.
5. Dating a sighted person means you know who’s going to drive on your next date.
Dating a blind person means you know you’re going to take the bus on your next date.
4. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to tell you if your socks match.
Dating a blind person means you have someone who remembers whether you cut the tag out of your orange or your purple shirt.
3. Dating a sighted person means there’s someone to tell you when you have a piece of broccoli stuck between your two front teeth.
Dating a blind person means no one notices when you have a piece of broccoli stuck between your two front teeth.
2. Dating a sighted person means you can ask questions like, “What’s the expiration date on this milk?” and “Does this look infected?”
Dating a blind person means you can ask questions like, “What’s the Braille symbol for S-I-O-N?” and “Does this feel swollen?”

Okay, okay. Hold on. I’m not going to give you the Number One advantage of dating sighted and blind persons until you hear me out. I have some important things to say here. Really!

As students, many of you have dated, are dating, or would like to date. Some of you may have pondered the question of whether or not to date a sighted or a blind person, as I have in the past. Sometimes I thought it would be easier to date a blind person, someone who could understand the challenges blind people face on a daily basis. At other times I thought it would be easier to date a sighted person, someone who could alleviate some of the challenges that go along with blindness.

Then, when I was in a relationship with someone sighted, I would start to question why I was with this person and why he was with me. Was he with me because he liked to play the protector? Was he with me because he had low self-esteem and didn’t think he could get a sighted partner? Was I with him because it was nice to have someone to drive me places when I was in a hurry or read the paper when NFB-NEWSLINE® broke down? Was I with this person because I was afraid to be alone?

When I was in a relationship with a blind person, I found myself asking similar questions. Did we have anything in common besides our blindness? Was I in this relationship because I didn’t think a sighted person could accept me? If I stayed in this relationship, how would we manage as a blind couple?

People enter relationships for many reasons. Like everyone else, we as blind students sometimes enter into relationships for the wrong ones. However, we can make this possibility less likely by possessing self-confidence and good blindness skills. For example, I probably won’t get into a relationship of dependency with a sighted person if I have access to readers, have good Braille and cane travel skills, and thoroughly know the city bus schedule. Likewise, I won’t be likely to enter into a relationship of safety with a blind person if I have the self-confidence to be blind on my own.

In other words, as in any relationship, you have to be happy with yourself before you can make another person happy. The better your blindness skills, the less your blindness will become an issue in a relationship. Both sighted and blind persons will respect you more if you are capable and self-confident. And isn’t that what Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and our other mentors in the National Federation of the Blind have been telling us for years? It is respectable to be blind. If you keep repeating this to yourself, you will start to believe it. If you believe it, you will begin to live it. Living that truth will positively affect your relationships with both sighted and blind people.

It is important for all of us as blind individuals to analyze our relationships. I’m not saying you have to get out a microscope and examine each and every move you and your partner make, but you should ask yourself the following questions:
1. Would I still be interested in this person if the status of his/her sight changed? In other words, if you are dating a sighted person, would you still be interested if he/she went blind? Or, if you are dating a blind person, would you be interested if he/she got his/her sight back?
2. Would I still want to be with this person if all of a sudden I could see?
If you are currently in a relationship and answer “no” to either of these questions, you might want to get out that microscope and take a closer look. You might be in the relationship for the wrong reasons. If you answered “yes” to both questions, then you have made it to the Number One advantage of dating a sighted or a blind person, which is the same for both.
1. Dating this person, sighted or blind, means being with the one you love (or at least the one you like a heck of a lot). And isn’t that what really matters?

A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Affect Us, and How We Can Rise Above Them

I’m walking home from the bank, along familiar sidewalks. My mind wanders from thoughts of my latest project at work, to the book we’re reading in my book club, to thinking about dinner. It’s my turn to choose the restaurant my husband and I will visit for our weekly date night. Amid my internal debate about whether I feel more like Indian or Chinese food today, I absently round the corner onto my street, a moment too late. My cane misses the street sign and, instead, my head slams into it. I freeze in shock, pressing my fingers on my forehead to extinguish the pain. After a few seconds, the pain subsides, and I keep going.

The physical pain is gone, but a new sequence of thoughts takes hold. I wonder how many people saw me crash into that sign? And what were they thinking? These bystanders had no idea about the paycheck I just put into the bank, no clue about my taste in novels or ethnic cuisine. They only know that I carry a white cane and my eyes dart around. To them, I’m likely just a poor blind lady who ventured out by herself and crashed into a pole. I wouldn’t mind much if they just thought I was a klutz. But the fear that they could blame my accident on blindness cuts to my core. Might my accident confirm their belief that all blind people (or, at least, most of us) are bumbling fools? And, at the root of my worries is a fear that they are right. What if there is something fundamentally wrong with me because I am blind? What if I’ve just been tricking myself into thinking that I have a happy, well-rounded life, when most of society seems set on telling me that my existence is flawed?

As I turn into my driveway, I feel the blood pulsing in my forehead where I bumped it. A welt is forming, a visible mark of shame. I’m relieved to get back home, away from the judgment.

The above scenario is hypothetical, but the thoughts and feelings described are common to many minority groups. It’s a phenomenon known as stereotype threat or, more broadly, “social identity threat.” It’s the fear of being judged based on stereotypes about one’s group—be it one’s race, gender, disability, or other characteristic. The pioneering social psychologist Claude Steeledescribed social identity threat as a “threat in the air” because it can hang over any setting where stereotypes might come into play. It may be felt by visibly disabled people, or by people with invisible disabilities asking for accommodations. It may hang over the female engineering professor who’s the only woman in the department meeting, the African American teenager checking the race box on his SAT, or the low-income person using food stamps at the grocery store. Regardless of the particular identity, social identity threat comprises a series of interrelated worries: Do people think less of me because of their stereotypes? If I mess up on some task, or do something else stereotypical (like getting emotional as a woman), will they judge me even worse? Will my actions or mistakes reflect badly on other people who share my identity (other disabled people, African Americans, etc.)? And, are their stereotypes actually true? Is there something fundamentally wrong with who I am?

Notably, we often aren’t consciously aware of these worries and fears. But, like carbon monoxide poisoning, this “threat in the air” can quietly pull us down.

Social identity threat has a number of negative consequences. The distracting worries it brings can hurt our performance on any kind of situation where we are being evaluated (like a standardized test or a job interview). In fact, research suggests that much of the racial difference in standardized test performance can be linked to social identity threat. The poor performance, in turn, can fuel our fears, leading to a vicious cycle. Another way we might cope with social identity threat is by hiding the identity, if we can. After all, if others don’t know I am blind, they can’t judge me based on that. So, people may choose not to use assistive devices like canes or hearing aids, even if those devices could help them. People with invisible disabilities may not request needed accommodations, or people with low incomes may not ask for financial assistance. Finally, if we have an identity which can’t be hidden, we may just try to avoid the situation by not doing things or going places where we might be stereotyped. The woman may not major in engineering; the African American student may opt for a two-year college that doesn’t require the SAT; and I might get a ride home from the bank, even though I can walk it.

But, there is a positive approach we can take to keep stereotypes and judgments from ruling our lives.

In a separate line of research, Dr. Steele described how humans have a fundamental need for “self-integrity” which he defined as:

a phenomenal experience of the self … as adaptively and morally adequate, that is, competent, good, coherent, unitary, stable, capable of free choice, capable of controlling important outcomes … (Steele, 1988, p. 262).

In other words, we are driven to see ourselves as fundamentally “OK.” Steele theorized that self-integrity is a flexible system. So, when we take a hit in one area, we can preserve our self-integrity by building ourselves up in another area. He called this approach “self-affirmation,” and over the past three decades, researchers have found that simple self-affirmation exercises can reverse the course of social identity threat. The most commonly studied exercise involves having people choose their most important values, such as their friends or family, religious values, having a sense of humor, or being good at art. People then write or talk about why these values are important to them, or specific things they have done to uphold their values. Such exercises can have dramatic benefits for people who are stereotyped; for example, they can boost the grades of minority studentsWhen we think about our values or things we are good at, we may be less bothered by other people’s judgments or stereotypes. We remember that we are fundamentally OK in the end.

It’s important to note that a self-affirmation isn’t just chanting “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough ….” In front of the mirror. In fact, such empty platitudes can backfire. Instead, we can affirm ourselves by reflecting on real, tangible indicators of who we are. For example, before going into an identity-threatening situation or after getting out of one, you might:

  • Think about something nice you’ve done for someone recently.

  • Think of a recent accomplishment you’re proud of.

  • Carry a symbol with you that represents your passions and connections to others. For example: a family picture, a wedding ring, a religious symbol, or button or ribbon from a political group.

  • When you get a written compliment (like a good performance review at work), save it, and review it if you’re feeling down or insecure.

  • Phone a friend. Talk to people who see you positively and love you unconditionally. Processing identity-threatening events with others who share your experiencescan be particularly helpful.

  • Laugh. There’s a reason why TV shows like SNL and John Oliver’s show became more popular among liberal Americans after last year’s election. Humor disarms fear and can counteract physical stress responses.

  • Above all, remember that we can control what we do, even though we can’t control other people’s judgments and stereotypes. We have the power to be the best people we can be.

Legislative Action Alert! Don’t Let Congress Weaken the ADA!

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to protect the civil rights of Americans with disabilities. Among other things, the ADA requires all businesses serving the public to make their facilities and communications accessible and to provide accommodations for particular disability needs. Business owners have had more than 25 years to learn about and implement accessibility requirements. However, disabled people still routinely face numerous access barriers when attempting to utilize goods or services available to the public. As just one example, many Americans with mobility disabilities still live in apartments with steps
Under the ADA, disabled people can file complaints and pursue civil action when they encounter direct or institutional discrimination from a place of business. But a new bill in Congress, H.R. 620, could make it harder for affected individuals to file complaints. It could complicate the process and delay required action by the business, removing incentives to comply with essential civil rights safeguards.
Read about the bill and how you can make your voice heard