In This Section      

A Sign of Things to Come

See more in:

A Sign of Things to Come

A Sign of Things to Come

Kyle DeCarlo-Gahagan is pushing to improve health access for deaf patients.

"DHI is trying to get the cultural awareness of [this population] embedded in medical school curriculum."

Kyle DeCarlo-Gahagan

Date: 12/16/2015

Kyle DeCarlo-Gahagan, a Johns Hopkins master’s of public policy student who was born deaf, knows that many in the deaf community face barriers when accessing health care. Recent studies have found that those who have been deaf since early childhood often have low health literacy and are less likely to see a physician than hearing adults. Those who do seek medical care often feel dissatisfied with their communication with providers.

Committed to improving this situation, DeCarlo-Gahagan—along with Allysa Dittmar, a master’s of health sciences student, and Aaron Hsu, a clinical research assistant at the Johns Hopkins Medicine Learning Lab—has launched the Deaf Health Initiative (DHI) to help medical providers better communicate with and provide quality care to the deaf patient population. One of the initiative’s first efforts is the Deaf Awareness Clinic (DAC), a role-playing experiment that aims to address communication challenges between providers and deaf patients. Adapted and expanded from Deaf Strong Hospital, a program at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and funded by a Diversity Innovation Grant from the Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council, the clinic was planned to launch at Johns Hopkins in the fall. Participating medical students sit in a mock primary care office, where they are given a copy of the American Sign Language alphabet and a list of symptoms they must communicate, either through signs, gestures or writing, to their provider, a volunteer from the deaf community. The medical students also conduct mock physical examinations on the deaf volunteers.

“DHI is trying to get the cultural awareness of [this population] embedded in medical school curriculum,” says DeCarlo-Gahagan. “We want to use DAC as a platform to expose the numerous barriers that are unique to the deaf community when seeking medical care so that aspiring physicians have the knowledge they need when in the future they interact with deaf patients.”