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Access to health care professions ‘a civil rights issue’ for deaf people

September 24, 2010
Arrow Buff

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Calling equal access to the full gamut of career opportunities in the health care field “a civil rights issue” for deaf people, Dr. Thomas Pearson, associate dean of clinical research for the University of Rochester, was among the representatives from Gallaudet, the National Technical Institute of the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester, and the Rochester General Health System who spoke at Gallaudet on September 11 about the need to include deaf people in this expanding sector of the job market. “I think this is an urgent issue,” said Pearson. “Let’s roll up our sleeves.”

Pearson’s call to action came at the first meeting of the Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, a group of 18 representatives from the partnering institutions. Over the next 18 months, the task force will develop an action plan to put into motion a ground-breaking initiative to prepare deaf and hard of hearing people–an important sector of the population that has been under-represented in the field of health care–for careers at all levels of the profession. Serving as co-chairs to coordinate the group’s efforts are Dr. Irene Leigh, chair of Gallaudet’s Department of Psychology, and Rose Marie Toscano, a professor of language and literature at NTID. Also participating in the kick-off meeting were Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz and NTID Interim President James DeCaro.

The day served as an opportunity for task force members to introduce themselves and explain their personal interest in serving on the group, as well as to review their charge. Specifically, the goals of the task force are to determine steps that can be taken immediately and over a short period of time that will give deaf and hard of hearing people access to health care jobs–and related to this objective–to ensure communication support and information access to these opportunities; identify existing education and training programs and develop new ones to equip deaf and hard of hearing people with needed skills to be hired for these jobs; and advocate for federal laws and policies, as well as private and public funding, to support expanded health care careers for deaf and hard of hearing people.

“When given the opportunity for education and training, deaf people have proven they can rise up in the ranks,” said Dr. Hurwitz, who commented that he and his family were served by a deaf doctor, deaf dentist, and even a deaf veterinarian when they lived in Rochester, N.Y. As a member of the 14-member Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, Hurwitz added that Gallaudet has the potential to offer its students a wealth of education, training, and internship opportunities in the health field. “Are deaf people really interested (in health career careers)?” Dr. DeCaro asked rhetorically. Judging by ACT national college admission and placement examination data, “the answer is an unqualified yes,” he said. Adding that “It’s about time,” for deaf people to be included in one of the nation’s fastest growing job markets. DeCaro expressed his confidence in the task force to make changes. “You have the talent we need,” he told the task force members.

The initial meeting included a presentation by Gerard Walter, project consultant with PEPNet-Northeast and Janet MacLeod, senior research associate in Academic Affairs at NTID, on the demographics of deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States who would be possible candidates for jobs in the health care field. It also included a tour of Gallaudet’s health care career programs and facilities. In addition, the task force identified focus groups for its next meeting, which will be hosted by NTID on November 4 and 5.

For more information and a list of task force members, go to www.rit.edu/ntid/hccd.

24 September 2010

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