Imagine living in a world where those around you are speaking, but you are unable to hear or partake in the conversation. Or imagine lying in a hospital bed, signingthe consent papers for a leg amputation without having any idea what you are signing because the medical linguistics were never explained to you.

For some deaf and hard-of-hearing patients, these illustrations represent their reality. Access Community Health Network and Sinai Health System have partnered on many health care initiatives throughout the years. However, one that is worthy ofgreat note is the Deaf Access Program, which recently celebrated its 10th year and 1000th patient.

To address these and other patients’ concerns, the Deaf Access Program uses interpreters and doctors fluent in American Sign Language to help patients fully communicate with health care providers.

The program is staffed with professionals who understand the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing communities from both sides of the table, and that empathy is apparent in the care that is given to patients.

“The Deaf Access Program is a culturally competent program,” said lead physician Dr. Gary Kaufman, “because the people involved in the program, including the manager, therapists and interpreters are deaf or come from deaf families.

This, combined with their experiences with the deaf culture, fully equips them to help community members with various medical needs.” DAP has helped more than 1,000 patients in 10 years by providing a “seamless continuity of care” to those in the Chicago area.

Teri Hedding, manager of the program, echoes Dr. Kaufman’s sentiments. “The Deaf Access Program is so unique because we are the only comprehensive program in the nation with a wide array of medical and mental health services for the deaf,” she said. “The deaf community views us as one of the most accessible places for these services. Additionally, it is very rare to see three doctors and three regular staff all affluent in interpreting and experienced in doing sign language within the same program.”

In addition, the program’s patient advocate, Linda Perry, who helps patients with insurance and daily personal matters, was brought up in a home with deaf parents and uses American Sign as her first language.

The program offers a myriad of health care specialties, including mental health services, which are crucial, because these services help patients tackle issues of depression, anxiety, anger or other feelings that interfere with normal daily life.

Another significant feature of the program is that interpreters are on call 24 hours a day to assist patients. Consequently, patients aren’t forced to spend an entire night in the emergency room, waiting for regular daytime staff to arrive.

For the estimated 50,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the Chicago area, significant changes in technology have also made communication easier. “Deaf people have done wonders with e-mail,” Dr. Kaufman added.

The program began in 1995 at Michael
Reese hospital as a psyche only program.

It moved to Sinai in 1998, where it has been allowed to expand and flourish completely focused on the deaf community and providing services generally offered through private medical organizations.

On July 16, the Sinai administrative team held a celebratory gala in honor of the programs 10th anniversary. More than 250 adults and children attended.

There was face painting, toy giveaways, DAP logo shirts and a special performance by Crystal Shwartz, the “American Idol” contestant who made a nation of millions realize the potential and importance of the deaf community.

For more information about the program call its TTY number at 773/257/6289, or the voice number at 773/257/5125.