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It might surprise you to learn that there are 37 million American adults with impaired hearing – that’s nearly the size of California, or 11 percent of the U.S. population. This group is expected to grow considerably as Baby Boomers age.

For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, masks, social distancing, and other measures taken to protect public health have created tremendous challenges. At the most basic level, many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people rely on visual cues like the movement of another person’s lips. This is made all but impossible with masks. The result is that Deaf and Hard of Hearing people often feel isolated, as this article from the New York Times points out.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals also miss out on public health information, as many broadcast announcements still do not include closed captions or the use of a sign language interpreter.

And then there’s telemedicine, the use of which has grown exponentially during the pandemic. Some telehealth platforms, as well as more common video conferencing apps like Zoom and Skype, are not built with interpreters in mind.

LanguageLine has released a solution that allows American Sign Language video interpreters to be integrated into telehealth calls. These interpreters (as well as Spanish video interpreters) are available on-demand at the touch of a button Monday through Friday. Audio-only interpretation is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in more than 240 languages.

Minus this solution, Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients miss out on critical information about COVID-19 and their own health.

“The challenge is getting a sign language interpreter to be present on Zoom and making sure that the captions work,” said Michelle Willenbrock, a vocational rehabilitation counselor in St. Louis. “We must reimagine our world to consider (and) include our Deaf community first, not after.”

Recovery Goes Through Language

America is unique in its multiculturalism and multilingualism. We reported earlier this week that Latinos are three times more likely to become infected with COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from it.

We are also unique in the sheer size of our Deaf and Hard of Hearing population.

The pandemic has taught us that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable populations. Those who cannot receive or understand critical health information – or who face barriers that prevent them from seeing a physician at all – are in a far more defenseless position. If their exposure to coronavirus remains great, then we cannot recover as a society.

The road to our recovery, both as a society and economically, goes through language.

Telehealth Resources for the Needs of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Individuals

There are many reasons why painful health disparities exist. LanguageLine aims to help address this issue by expanding and simplifying options for telehealth platforms to integrate interpreter support.

To help providers overcome language barriers in health care, we recently launched LanguageLine for Telehealth. This service gives healthcare providers the much-needed ability to invite professional, medically trained language interpreters into their telemedicine sessions.

Through LanguageLine for Telehealth, foreign-language interpreters can be reached on-demand in more than 240 languages, including American Sign Language.

With just a few simple steps, LanguageLine for Telehealth can easily be implemented on services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, WebEx, Skype, and GoToMeeting, as well as most major telemedicine platforms. 

Please contact us to learn more about LanguageLine for Telehealth.

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