Marking Deaf Awareness Week (1 May to 7 May 2023), the President of UWE Bristol's British Sign Language (BSL) society is calling on universities and healthcare organisations to equip healthcare students with BSL and Deaf awareness training.
UWE Bristol's British Sign Language society is the first in the country to provide professional courses for healthcare students, at scale and led by members of the Deaf community. So far this year 240 healthcare students have attended the society's continuing professional development (CPD) courses. Those studying include student nurses, paramedics, midwives, radiographers, optometrists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.
The courses are delivered by the Centre for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, a Bristol-based non-profit organisation.
The British Deaf Association recently condemned the 'life-threatening communications failures’ Deaf people face on a daily basis. It called for mandatory BSL and Deaf awareness training for frontline NHS staff following the case of a Deaf woman from Derby whose husband had died and paramedics could not communicate with her.
Second year UWE Bristol paramedic student and President of the BSL society, Daniel Hunt, said:
"Approximately nine million people in the UK are Deaf or hard of hearing. Currently, frontline healthcare workers aren’t given basic British Sign Language and Deaf awareness training as standard. Effective communication is critical in healthcare settings, so this is a gap we wanted to address.
“We wanted to show how much of a difference basic training can make to Deaf and hard of hearing patients and to healthcare professionals on the front line.
“A little bit of communication and awareness can go a long way, especially in emergency situations. Just being able to ask a person’s name and ask if they need help could make the vital difference before a fully qualified interpreter can be organised. It can literally be a matter of life and death.
“The popularity of our courses shows that there is demand from students and we hope that other organisations will look to replicate our approach by engaging with trainers from the Deaf community with the aim of making healthcare safer and more inclusive.”
Kyla Boulton is a learning disability nurse with bilateral hearing loss and is a bilateral hearing aid user:
“These courses are important in raising awareness and improving general knowledge about hard of hearing (HOH)/Deaf people. Promoting inclusion rather than driving exclusion, they have dispelled some myths and common misconceptions that people have about HOH/Deaf people. These are mainly that it's only older people who are affected.
“Learning health-related signs and asking someone's name, means that people are included.
“I have noticed that people are more patient and prepared to repeat things, and people have been quite inquisitive to really understand how my HOH affects me and what they can do differently to support.
“Students on my course were asking my history and how my HOH has caused challenges for me. They also want to know about situations where people have discriminated against me so that they don't make the same mistakes. They become more conscious and proactive in their actions. For example, they stand closer, speak louder and explain what someone on the other side of the group has said because they know that the HOH/Deaf person probably didn't hear it.”
Ellena Horton, a first year UWE Bristol Paramedic Science student, said:
“I think that this should be a skill that all paramedics learn and could be able to use, and so a course like this is definitely starting to make healthcare accessible for all.
“I attended one of these sessions knowing some basic BSL through the UWE Bristol BSL society and came out feeling so much more confident, not only on how to communicate with people who are Deaf or are hard of hearing in a medical environment, but also in a more general setting.
“It’s amazing that there are courses like this out there to highlight the importance for healthcare professionals to be able to communicate and engage with all patients and their relatives or friends.”
Justin Smith, Chief Executive of the Centre for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, said:
“We have a vision of Bristol as a Deaf-friendly city, where communication is no longer a barrier for Deaf and hard of hearing people, and where everyone can feel part of the vibrant community that they live in today.
“This is why sessions such as our Deaf awareness training are important so that more people develop an understanding of how to overcome communication barriers and are able to adopt small changes in their workplace or service delivery, and within their communities, to make everything as inclusive as possible for Deaf and hard of hearing people.”