Brief Introduction to Jamaican Sign Language For Medical Professionals

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Introduction

For many persons in the Deaf community accessing healthcare can be a challenge affecting their health seeking practices. These extend beyond the language barrier, but also include factors, such as, the cost of a qualified interpreter, lack of privacy and accuracy when using family or friends as ‘interpreters’, potentially negatively affecting their health seeking behaviours.

D/deaf persons might struggle to get a full or accurate understanding of their medical visits because of these barriers, which further affects their health outcomes. Conversations and interviews with stakeholders during our needs assessment gave a snapshot of the average deaf person’s experience in healthcare.

“Going to the doctor with family members helps me feel more comfortable. The doctor talks a lot and my family members [translate] what they say afterward, but I feel like my family member misses out some of what the doctor says” 

– Views of a D/deaf participant

Without an interpreter, it can be difficult to teach D/deaf persons with chronic illnesses about their medication and self-management. On the flip side, knowing sign language can help a doctor to more effectively meet the patient’s healthcare needs 

– Insights from healthcare provider interviews 

We found that a lot that is needed.

Ultimately, we concluded that in order to improve Deaf persons’ access to healthcare, policymakers must focus on a few critical things: more research on the quality, accessibility and acceptability of healthcare afforded to the Deaf community to inform evidence-based and inclusive policies and protocols; improved access to trained JSL interpreters on site in health facilities; and standardisation of medical terminology in JSL.

The University of the West Indies Dentistry programme includes JSL and Deaf culture as mandatory courses, and has yielded some positive results. We strongly advocate for other faculties and programmes in health disciplines (such as Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery) to follow suit. You can see that there is a lot of work to do, and this is only a drop in the bucket.

So Why This Course?

The aim of our ‘Brief Introduction to Jamaican Sign Language For Medical Professionals’ is simply to introduce medical professionals to the challenges encountered by D/deaf clients and to encourage healthcare providers to become advocates for their patients. We hope this course helps to improve the medical consultation by supporting healthcare workers to break the ice and build a closer rapport with their patients by demonstrating their interest in and efforts to communicate. Ultimately we are contributing to raised awareness around disability issues such as access to care, with the goal of igniting positive change.

If you would like more information, or if you have any suggestions or concerns, or if you just want to connect with us, you may email the Margin2Centre team at margin2centreja@gmail.com. Thank you for taking the time to complete this introductory course.

Acknowledgements

This project would not have been completed without strong and supportive partners, and so we have to thank our main funding organisation, FRIDA, a young feminist fund. Our direction and priorities for this course were informed by a rapid community needs assessment involving several stakeholders in various sectors. We are immensely grateful to all the stakeholders and participants who shared their experiences and expertise with the M2C team.

We also want to extend our heartfelt thanks to the following groups and individuals: Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf, and their Executive Director, Leon Samms, who not only supported our vision, but also connected us to the community; Antoinette Aiken, more affectionately known as, ToniTerp, who both offered insight as a staunch advocate for the community and acted as our interpreter on many occasions; Jamaica Association for the Deaf who gave us their time and valuable insight.

A huge thank you to Ready To Sign, our lead partner, they are a Deaf led JSL education company, and a huge resource overall. We hope to continue working with them, along with the other (and more!) stakeholders to improve the overall medical experience for the Deaf community, one intentional step at a time. 

If you’re interested in learning sign language, Ready To Sign can be Whatsapped at 876-399-7619 or email them at readytosignjsl@gmail.com. Tell them we sent you!

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