Scenario 7: Communication with people with sensory challenges such as hearing loss and visual impairment

A genetic counselor notes that a new client with ID who is deaf and communicates using sign language is scheduled for an appointment in the coming week. The client also has a visual impairment.  What resources can she consult in advance to facilitate communication during this visit?

Visual and hearing impairments should not prevent effective, direct communication in health settings. The resources provided here can help to build knowledge and skills in communicating with people who have hearing or visual impairments.


Title:  Health care for individuals with hearing loss or vision loss:  a minefield of barriers to accessibility (Withers and Speight, 2017)

Source:  North Carolina Medical Journal

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Description:  Quotation from the article- “Individuals with hearing or vision loss face significant barriers in accessing health care, resulting in documented health inequities. These barriers are typically in the form of inaccessible communication or information, as well as impediments to orientation or mobility. Compliance with applicable accessibility laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires that providers have a sound understanding of the specific aids and services that assure compliance.”

Title:  Effective communication with people who have sensory disabilities-Improving access to health care for people with disabilities

Source: DREDF-Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

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Description:  This DREDF training module presents key elements of effectively communicating with people with sensory disabilities.

Title:  Accessibility Includes Communication

Source: Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC)

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Description:  “This booklet is about ways to make your business or organization accessible to people who have communication disabilities. It is part of Communication Access Now (CAN), a national strategy to raise awareness of the accessibility requirements of people who have communication disabilities.”

Title:  Questions and Answers for Health Care Providers

Source: National Association for the Deaf

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Description:  “Doctors, nurses, dentists, specialists, therapists, and other health care providers must communicate effectively to provide appropriate, effective, quality health care services.  Federal disability discrimination laws mandate equal access to and an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from health care services, and effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Title:  Health care access among deaf people (Kuenberg, Fellinger and Fellinger, 2015)

Source:  The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

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Description:  Quotation from the abstract-Access to health care without barriers is a clearly defined right of people with disabilities as stated by the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The present study reviews literature from 2000 to 2015 on access to health care for deaf people and reveals significant challenges in communication with health providers and gaps in global health knowledge for deaf people including those with even higher risk of marginalization…Programs that raise health knowledge in Deaf communities and models of primary health care centers for deaf people are also presented. Published documents can empower deaf people to realize their right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.”

Title:  Hearing loss:  tips to improve communication with people with hearing loss

Source: Cleveland Clinic

Find at:–hearing-loss?view=print

Description:  A short list of practical tips

Title:  Effective Communication for Health Care Providers:  a guide to caring for people with disabilities (Riddle, Romelczyk and Sparling, 2011) has very helpful sections on communicating with individuals with hearing loss and vision loss

Source: Center for Disability Studies, University of Delaware

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Description:  “Disability can impact communication. Identifying a patient’s disability and its potential impact on effective communication is the first step in reducing the risk of miscommunication. The type of disability – whether intellectual, sensory, mobility or mental health – will help determine the kind of accommodation needed.”