Health Care Needs of Deaf Signers: The Case for Culturally Competent Health Care Providers

Sabrina A Jacob*, Uma Devi Palanisamy, Jemina Napier, Daniëlle Verstegen, Amreeta Dhanoa, Elizabeth Yie-Chuen Chong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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There is a need for culturally competent health care providers (HCPs) to provide care to deaf signers, who are members of a linguistic and cultural minority group. Many deaf signers have lower health literacy levels due to deprivation of incidental learning opportunities and inaccessibility of health-related materials, increasing their risk for poorer health outcomes. Communication barriers arise because HCPs are ill-prepared to serve this population, with deaf signers reporting poor-quality interactions. This has translated to errors in diagnosis, patient nonadherence, and ineffective health information, resulting in mistrust of the health care system and reluctance to seek treatment. Sign language interpreters have often not received in-depth medical training, compounding the dynamic process of medical interpreting. HCPs should thus become more culturally competent, empowering them to provide cultural- and language-concordant services to deaf signers. HCPs who received training in cultural competency showed increased knowledge and confidence in interacting with deaf signers. Similarly, deaf signers reported more positive experiences when interacting with medically certified interpreters, HCPs with sign language skills, and practitioners who made an effort to improve communication. However, cultural competency programs within health care education remain inconsistent. Caring for deaf signers requires complex, integrated competencies that need explicit attention and practice repeatedly in realistic, authentic learning tasks ordered from simple to complex. Attention to the needs of deaf signers can start early in the curriculum, using examples of deaf signers in lectures and case discussions, followed by explicit discussions of Deaf cultural norms and the potential risks of low written and spoken language literacy. Students can subsequently engage in role plays with each other or representatives of the local signing deaf community. This would likely ensure that future HCPs are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide appropriate care and ensure equitable health care access for deaf signers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-340
Number of pages6
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number3
Early online date25 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022




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