By Nathan Fesler
April 4, 2009
Drug Awareness and Treatment Services for the Deaf in a Hearing World
There has been a long running history in America to ignore groups of
Americans who happen to be other than the dominant majority group. More so
when linguistically speaking the Deaf community has been estimated (it’s
important to note there isn’t a definitive statistical number) to comprise
of one half of a percent of the total United States population (Guthmann).
As such, the Deaf community is largely ignored causing a shortage of
services for the Deaf community in many areas. One such area is the lack of
drug awareness and prevention services available to the young Deaf people.
This is particularly concerning when drug abuse is just as prevalent within
the Deaf community as it is within the hearing community. This drug abuse
is attributed to the fact that young Deaf tend to experience high levels of
distress, isolation, bullying, and exclusion from the mainstream hearing
culture in the school setting (“Drug
education for young deaf people”). This can be further exacerbated
when 90 percent of Deaf children have hearing parents, in which serious
communication barriers can exist (Guthmann). Unfortunately the knowledge of
drug awareness by young Deaf people is lacking, due to the almost exclusive
use of oral communication to convey information. When information
concerning substance abuse and treatment does reach the young Deaf people it
is often received fragmentally and slow (Guthmann). Furthermore, the lack
of treatment services that are used to address the drug abuse in young Deaf
people are almost exclusively catering to the needs of the hearing
majority. Theodore G. MacKinney and others
cite, “fewer than 10% of deaf patients reported being offered an ASL
interpreter when they were hospitalized” (MacKinney et al.). This alarming
statistic underlies the problem of the disconnect between the Deaf patient
and the doctor due to a language barrier. This of course directly impacts
the effectiveness of the treatment, and lowering the willingness of the Deaf
patient to continue. This all makes drug awareness and treatment
that caters to the needs of the Deaf community that much more important.
As outlined by Guthmann what is essential for any successful treatment plan
to work requires a staff fluent in ASL and Deaf culture. This provides a
direct link that allows the Deaf patient to adequately communicate and feel
understood. Secondly Guthmann also notes that treatments need to minimize
reading and writing (tools useful for hearing people), and instead implement
the use of visual aids to again reduce the language barrier. Lastly Guthmann
also notes that it is important to use telecommunication devices for the
Deaf when needed, as another means to allow adequate communication between
the Deaf patient and the doctor (Guthmann).
Sadly the hearing world still largely persists in ignoring the needs of the
Deaf community. Public health services are still almost exclusively
tailored to hearing people, which further perpetuates the language barrier.
As such the vast majority of treatment and awareness programs continue to be
vastly inadequate for the needs of the Deaf community. The unfortunate
reality is programs outlined by Guthmann are still too few and far between.
"Drug education for young deaf people."
Drug & Alcohol Education and Prevention Team. 2004. DrugScope. 5 Apr
Guthmann, Debra. "Is There a Substance Abuse
Problem Among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals?." The Minnesota
Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals. 5
Apr 2009 <http://www.mncddeaf.org/articles/problem_ad.htm>.
MacKinney, Theodore, Donna Walters, Geoffrey
L. Bird, and Ann Butler Nattinger. "Improvements in preventive care and
communication for deaf patients." Journal of General Internal Medicine
March 1995. Pg 133. 4 April 2009 .