Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-Fairport, NY), a long-time supporter of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, reports that a task force has been formed to increase job opportunities in the health care profession for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

Seventeen people from four centers–the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, Gallaudet University in Washington, the National Center on Deaf Health Research based at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Rochester General Health Systemshave–formed a partnership to start developing educational programs and expand opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing university-level students to enter health care professions.

"One of the major challenges facing us now is the critical shortage of health care specialists at all levels of training to care for the citizens of our nation," Slaughter said at the Capitol. "And that challenge coincides with another, much lesser known serious challenge; the limited opportunities for qualified deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in this country to pursue careers in health care, which is why I am pleased to announce the Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Community."

The limited opportunities in health care fields for deaf and hard-of-hearing students comes from self-perception that health care is not an appropriate field, perceptions among the general population that health care careers are not appropriate for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and a lack of deaf and hard-of-hearing health care professionals representing the needs of patients with hearing loss.

The task force will begin work this summer and complete their charge within 18 months, culminating in short- and long-term recommendations in education, access and social policy, according to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Rochester, NY.

"RIT is proud to be on the ground floor of this unique partnership," said RIT President Bill Destler. "Future students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing will have access to more state-of-the-art training, more hands-on experience, and more career choices than ever before. We couldn’t be happier to help make this happen.

Rochester is the home to one of the largest concentrations of deaf people in the country, with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 residents whose primary language is American Sign Language, Slaughter said.

"There is no better place in the world to be the hub of training deaf and hard-of-hearing people for careers in health care," says NTID Interim President James DeCaro. "This initiative will provide easier access for deaf patients to understandable health care and train more professionals to provide that care, including preventative education."

Students will be trained as health care technicians, professionals, and physicians. The task force may also address career opportunities for hearing students as medical interpreters. Their specialized training can be further developed to allow better communication and understanding between physician and patient.

Kyle Gahagan, a first-year RIT/NTID student from Maryland, was born profoundly deaf. A biomedical science major, he has dreams of becoming a doctor.

"This partnership is a great beginning for a lot of us," Gahagan said. "Deaf doctors are almost unheard of. This partnership will enable the deaf to have a shot at a career knowing they have the support they need to be successful. I’m excited to see what this partnership has to offer future deaf and hard-of-hearing medical school enthusiasts. It’s a great start to our career."

Dr Michael McKee, a member of UR’s National Center on Deaf Health Research, also applauds the initiative.

"With the advancement of medical technology including assistive devices such as amplified stethoscopes, there is no reason why intelligent and talented deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals should be excluded from many of the medical schools and training programs," said McKee, a private practice physician who is deaf. "With the task force’s support and guidance, I feel confident that doors of opportunities will be opened more widely for these individuals. Diversity in our medical professional workforce is essential to meet the varied health demands of our population, including those who have hearing losses."

Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz said his college "is delighted to join this strong partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester Medical Center to create more opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the health care fields, and to ultimately improve the lives of deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing people around the country.The University is pleased that faculty members from our bioscience programs can contribute their expertise to this vitally important effort."

Dr Vivian Lewis, Associate Dean for Faculty Development – Women and Diversity at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said URMC "is committed to developing and expanding partnerships with the deaf community and other leading institutions that share our goal of reducing health disparities. Since 2003 the University of Rochester has been at the forefront of research into the health of deaf and hard-of-hearing people, through the Rochester Prevention Research Center: National Center for Deaf Health Research, funded by the Centers for Disease Control. The University of Rochester relies on a robust collaboration with the deaf community and both local and national experts to conduct this research into how to alleviate the health disparities that effect deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. This Task Force promises to solidify those collaborations and put us closer to the goal of improving the health of the deaf community."

Task Force members are:

Irene Leigh, Gallaudet University, Psychology (co-chair)
Rose Marie Toscano, NTID Liberal Studies (co-chair)
Kathy Arnos, Gallaudet University, Genetics Program
Gary Behm, NTID Engineering Studies
Nancy Chin, University of Rochester, Department of Community and Preventative Medicine
Richard Doolittle, RIT College of Science
Caroline Kobek-Pezzarossi, Gallaudet University, Psychology
Vivian Lewis, University of Rochester, Obstetrics and Gynecology
Daniel Lundberg, Gallaudet University, Chemistry
Raymond Merritt Jr, Gallaudet University, Biology
Kathleen Miraglia, NTID American Sign Language and Interpreter Education
Robert Pollard, University of Rochester, Psychology
Deidre Schlehofer, University of Rochester, National Center for Deaf Health Research
J. Matthew Searls, NTID Cultural and Creative Studies
David Snyder, Gallaudet University, Chemistry and Physics
Gloria Wilder, CORE Health
Donna VanHousen, Information Services

[Source: NTID]