By Leila Miller Staff Writer April 16, 20202:48 PM
A nurse at Health Central Hospital in Ocoee, Fla., activated a video screen with an internet link to connect Jennylee Bruno to an American sign language interpreter. Minutes later, Bruno’s worst fear was confirmed: The shortness of breath, sense of fire in her lungs, and dry cough were a case of the coronavirus.
The doctor told Bruno, a deaf author and mother of five, that they could only help ease the pain. Then the video feed froze, unfroze, and froze again. Bruno sobbed from her bed.
“I felt like they were giving me a death sentence,” she said of that day in March. “I wanted to ask, am I going to die, what can we do, is there a cure, what about medications, what’s the plan?”
As some hospitals are overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, deaf and hard of hearing patients in California and across the country face greater barriers accessing accommodations that allow them to understand what doctors and nurses are saying.ADVERTISING
The increased use of masks has hindered those who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate. Many hospitals have restricted interpreters and visitors, and are instead offering patients video conferencing with remote interpreters, an aid that may run into technical issues.
“The calls and emails that we have received reflect deaf and hard of hearing people being alone in hospitals without ways to communicate with the hospital doctors or staff or even to make calls to family outside of the hospital,” wrote Howard A. Rosenblum, the CEO of the National Assn. of the Deaf, in an email.
Nearly 4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as either deaf or having difficulty hearing. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, hospitals must facilitate effective communication with services like in-person or video remote interpreting, captioning, written notes or speech-to-text apps.