“Health is More than Communication Access” by Matt Starr

English Translation by Doug Bowen-Bailey and Matt Starr

My name is Matt Starr.  I work at the University of Rochester in New York at the National Center for Deaf Health Research.  The focus of the research is on the health of the deaf population.  The focus is not on hearing health research, but on overall health.

About 10 to 15 years ago, our government started to identify that the health of minority populations was not the same as the general population.  For example, African-Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos did not have the same health outcomes as White Americans.  So, emphasis was given to remove those disparities.  Our center was established to focus on the health of the deaf community.

One of our frustrations came as we were working to engage the Deaf community and learn from their experiences and perspectives.  We often had focus groups to get people to talk about their health or experiences with diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis.  While we wanted to find out their experiences with health issues, they frequently only shared concerns about access to health care, whether difficulties communicating with a doctor or having a hard time understanding written information.  We agree with those concerns, but we already know that from years of experience.  We want to learn what people are seeing in the community with issues like diabetes, high blood pressured or obesity.  When we ask this question, people often don’t know how to respond.  They haven’t had the chance to really discuss these topics.

I have seen in my studies of other minority groups that the leadership have started the discussions on these health topics, yet in the Deaf community, we are behind some of these other communities in getting the conversation started.  I just returned from the National Association of the Deaf conference where they were discussing the issues that need to be focused on for the next 3 to 5 years.  They brainstormed a list of issues that, while all important, need to be prioritized.  On that list there was nothing about the health of the deaf community.

I think that is a message that all of us need to bring home and think about focusing on the health of the deaf community – meaning the entirety of health concerns and not just thinking about it in audiological terms.

So, good luck in doing that.