Why Hospitals Need Sign Language Interpreters

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Aishat, as fondly called, followed her relation, a pregnant deaf, to a hospital to assist her in accessing ante-natal healthcare in one of the hospitals in Abuja.
Because Aishat is not trained in interpreting sign language, it became a serious challenge for her to sail her deaf relation through the interactions between the doctor and the patient.
Most of the times they came for appointments, little improvements were observed in the woman’s complaints because Aishat could not adequately decode the message from her relation to the medical personnel.
Imagine a recurring situation such as this in various health institutions where the deaf and other physically challenged persons have to grapple with their challenges in accessing healthcare.
Perceptive observers note that although the right to information is a basic human right, essential for individuals and groups to exercise and make informed decisions as independent persons, this group of persons doesn’t seem to enjoy it.
In the light of this, Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (DWAN), Abuja chapter, held deaf women awareness week to sensitise the public to the importance of sign language interpreters for the deaf in hospitals.
The week coincided with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWDs) entitled: “Equipping the future: Empowering Deaf Women and Girls To Ensure Inclusiveness And Equality’’.
Mrs Helen Beyioku-Alase, chairperson of the association, called on the Federal Government to be fair in approach for inclusiveness and equality in society.
According to her, sign language interpretation is the only means of communication that ought to be provided for the deaf in health institutions.
Beyioku-Alase called on governments to provide sign language interpreters in hospitals to enable deaf persons benefit from universal health coverage.
She said that most deaf women and girls were the most neglected and rejected group who struggled to be included in the scheme of things, health progammes inclusive.
Beyioku-Alase also said that such people were often excluded from the design, planning and implementation of policies and programmes that could impact positively on their lives.
“Too often, they, especially the deaf, face difficulties in engaging in labour markets and in accessing healthcare, education and other services because they can’t communicate.
“As we work towards attaining the Vision 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, DWAN is advocating the right and inclusion of deaf women in Nigeria.
“This should be with a special focus on sexual and reproductive rights, economic empowerment and elimination of violence against women, education and accessible healthcare.
“While DWAN works at the grassroots, it is well positioned to do national level advocacy as it has branches spread across 36 states of the country,’’ Beyioku-Alase said.
She commended President Muhammadu Buhari for assenting to the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.
According to her, the act will eliminate the sufferings of many persons with disabilities, including deaf women.
She also urged the international community, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations to rekindle and reposition their belief to carry deaf women along and ensure inclusiveness and equality.
Beyioku-Alase noted that deaf women and children need every support, especially in hospitals, in the area of communication to health officials on their challenges, to be fully integrated and functioning in the society.
Apart from creating facilities for sign language interpreters, she said that empowerment of deaf women and girls in skills acquisition; capacity building or training automatically gives a sense of belonging.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mrs Hauwa Shekarau, the country director of Ipas, said that there should be an increase in sexual reproductive knowledge among persons with disabilities through adequate communication method such persons understood – sign language interpretation.
Shekarau advised government to invest in more specific programmes such as the provision of sign language interpreters in strategic places of public service for persons with disabilities to boost empowerment programmes.
Medical personnel believe that inadequate communication, for instance, in health sector, can increase the risk of medical errors and inappropriate treatments. They note further that interpreters can play a crucial role by facilitating verbal and non-verbal communication.
Analysts, therefore, advise the stakeholders to make qualified interpreters available to such group of persons on a scheduled basis and on an un-scheduled basis with minimal delay, including on-call arrangements for after-hours emergencies.
Onifade is of the News Agency of Nigeria.

Olasunkanmi Onifade