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Gallaudet Represented At Medicine X Conference At Stanford

On September 23-26, American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Studies professor Dr. Benjamin Bahan, ’79, Ph.D. student Joseph Santini, E-’97, and Alyssa Bennett, ’15, represented Gallaudet University at the annual Stanford Medicine X (MedX) conference in Stanford, Calif.

The conference brought together leaders in academia and industry to discuss and shape the future of health care. The dialogue focused on how the field will benefit from emerging technologies and ideas. These innovations are recognized as a key component in advancing the practice of medicine, improving health, and empowering patients to fully engage in their own care.

“The goal of the Stanford MedX conference is to bring together doctors and patients and talk about health care issues on a widespread level,” said Bennett. “This is one of the only conferences where patients have a voice and can make an impact on how doctors treat their patients in the future.”

Bennett was invited to the conference to discuss how diagnoses shape identities. With her presentation, “Ignite! Talk: Finding My Identity.” Bennett shared that at eight years old, she was diagnosed as “hearing impaired” and was told she would struggle with speech and need special accommodations for her to succeed in a “normal” environment.

This prognosis shaped her childhood as she fought to fit in; by high school, she was combatting loneliness and a sense of disconnection. That all changed when she took an American Sign Language (ASL) class and found her identity as a deaf person. She learned that she was not alone and belonged to a community with an entire culture of shared experiences.

“Approaching deafness as a cultural difference instead of a loss or a tragedy can help families make a more informed decision about their child’s future,” she said. “We all deserve to benefit from Deaf Gain, not suffer from hearing loss.”

Bahan also presented on this shift in perception in his presentation, “Deaf Gain: What can Healthcare and Society at Large Gain from the Deaf Community?”

“I hoped to be able to re-frame [the audience’s] perception of deaf people (discussing Deaf Gain rather than hearing loss) and make them realize that society has a lot to benefit from deaf experiences if they step out of their boxed-in perception of deaf people as having loss and sign language as a communication disorder,” said Bahan.

Bahan spoke about the advantages of visual language and how society as a whole can benefit from the deaf experience. He demonstrated that ASL is particularly effective at portraying physical, visual, and spatial dimensions and that topics such as human anatomy and physiology are conveyed more accurately in this modality. Bahan also discussed how eye contact and touch, which are integral features of ASL, are proven to enhance communication. He pointed out that this is especially relevant in regards to the doctor/patient relationship where effective communication is of utmost importance.

Santini focused on communication between the doctor and patient in his presentation, “Ignite! Talk: Autonomy, Access and Patient Engagement.” Specifically, Santini shared his research on Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) and the effect it has on the experiences of deaf patients. Santini’s research showed that VRI often has limiting effects on patients in both social and physical ways. He learned that when autonomy is limited, the engagement of deaf patients in the health care process is minimized, which can lead to less effective communication and treatment. Conversely, he shared that when patients take a more proactive role in their own treatment, no matter who they are, the treatment is much more successful.

Santini also completed research focusing on the experiences of deaf medical professionals and medical students, which he shared during his address.

“There’s a parallel between the experiences of deaf students, and doctors, and deaf patients; both are rarely allowed to choose their own access,” he said.
Bahan, Santini, and Bennett were pleased about how they were received by the conference attendees.

“[My] presentation went far better than I could have imagined,” said Bennett. “Many people related to it on different levels. It was so great to see that our experiences actually do have a lot of similarities with others, even if we don’t have the same identity.”

“I’m hoping that my ideas had an impact on the medical community and in particular medical schools,” said Santini. “I’d love to see that my presentation improved the situation for medical students who are deaf, or for deaf patients in hospitals.”

Bahan noted an immediate impact of his presentation: “Two members of the panel I was part of have decided to enroll in ASL classes.”
Videos of the presentations will soon be available online.

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