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ROCHESTER, N.Y./ WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act more than 20 years ago, deaf and hard of hearing individuals still face barriers that prevent them from pursuing careers in the health care industry.

Educational challenges, the costs associated with interpreters and other access services, attitudinal perceptions among prospective employers and lacking technology to make training accessible in the workplace may be why less than 6 percent of deaf or hard of hearing people in the labor force work in the health care industry, compared to nearly 10 percent of their hearing peers.

Those are some of the findings made public today from a task force formed two years ago and charged with making recommendations to overcome the barriers that prevent deaf and hard of hearing individuals from entering and succeeding in health care careers.

The 20 members of the Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and hard of hearing Community came from four partnering institutions: Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology; University of Rochester Medical Center; and Rochester General Health Systems, as well as individual representatives.

The task force has released its final report after months of research, focus groups and personal interviews. Members reviewed success stories about ways modern technology such as visual stethoscopes can assist deaf and hard of hearing individuals in schools and in their careers. But they also were presented with stories about students rejected from schools with health care majors when they learned the student was deaf, and apprehension of current students from trying to become medical professionals due to fear they would not be accepted in schools simply because they can’t hear.

Among the findings:

  • Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are underrepresented in health care fields.
  • Not only are proportionally fewer deaf and hard of hearing persons employed in health care professions, but when they are employed, they are in positions that require less education (such as nursing, psychiatric and home health care aides).
  • The health care industry is expected to increase 22 percent and generate 3.2 million new jobs through 2018 – more than any other employment sector – due in part to the increasing elderly population. Shortages in trained employees to fill these jobs are predicted.
  • Proposed solutions to break down the barriers include improvements in health care-related educational and employment opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, employer awareness programs regarding the benefits of hiring and supporting deaf and hard of hearing employees, and the widespread use of innovative access technologies along with creative approaches for funding access services. Also recommended are the creation of a website to act as a clearinghouse for information on programs and available resource and internship opportunities for students and prospective employers; program development to share best practices in teaching deaf and hard of hearing students in the classroom and clinical settings; and the establishment of a national advisory group to accomplish long- and short-term goals suggested by the task force.

“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, 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,” says Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who announced the formation of the task force in 2010. “The findings of this study present win-win situations for the health care industry and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, which is why I am so proud of NTID and Gallaudet for their dedication.”

The two institution presidents, both of whom are deaf, applaud the work of the task force.

“Since its creation nearly 50 years ago, NTID has been at the forefront of providing career-focused educational opportunities in high-demand fields for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” says Gerry Buckley, president of NTID. “We are proud to be a partner in this initiative to enhance career opportunities in the growing health care field and to play a lead role in the development of programs designed to remove the barriers and ensure that deaf and hard of hearing individuals can enter the health care field and succeed alongside their hearing peers.”

“I am very pleased that this task force has brought to light many of the barriers that are preventing our bright, energetic and motivated students from achieving careers in health care, whether they dream to become doctors, dentists, nurses or lab technicians,” says T. Alan Hurwitz, president of Gallaudet University. “By identifying the barriers and suggesting solutions, we’re that much closer to achieving a level playing field for future deaf and hard of hearing students.”

The goals and implementation recommendations in the report focus on ensuring high quality and innovative access services, re-envisioning educational experiences and preparation, undertaking long-term programs of research and policy development/refinement, and cultivating employer awareness and action in hiring and supporting the career advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

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