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  • Writer's pictureMarium Nadeem

Taking Pakistani Sign Language training to organisations

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

Aga Khan University (AKU) students preparing themselves to step into the healthcare setting realised during their clinical rotation that they had trouble communicating with Deaf patients, and in understanding their distress. This incident gave them a glimpse into the world of a common Deaf patient and their own unpreparedness in establishing a relationship with them and providing them with adequate health care.

In hopes of fostering better communication with patients and building an accessible future for the Deaf community, students from AKU invited us to design for them an interactive Pakistani Sign Language (PSL) course that would give them a firm foundation in the basics of medical signing. Prior to organising PSL training at AKU, we have successfully managed to train students from DOW, PIA and several other service distributors.

Every day, Deaf patients experience frustration, fear and distrust during their health care encounters. Medical terminologies and diagnosis wrongly being communicated due to a language barrier increases the likelihood of misdiagnosis and unfair treatment at the hands of medical practitioners.

At AKU, we organised Sign Language Classes for their students from 12th April till 4th May where classes were held thrice a week, for 2 hours each day. We focused on teaching them basic PSL and medical terminologies – they received training on how to ask for a patient’s bio-data, their medical history, their symptoms, its severity and frequency. With the successful completion of this project, the students engaged in practising their newly acquired skills with Deaf patients by diagnosing and examining them.

We laid the groundwork with our comprehensively designed course where students learned single handed alphabets, numbers, colours, time and seasons, body action, human relationships, vocabulary words and fundamental facial expressions. They were taught to effectually take a patient’s history and sign different body parts and medical terminologies such as abdominal, gastro, respiratory, back pain and depression.

Zainab, a third year medical student at AKU, said, “I want to help Deaf patients. I tried to learn sign language a couple of times but each time, I would forget. Attending the classes given by ConnectHear with their friendly environment, and structured coursework has made me feel at ease in communicating with the Deaf.”

“I had a lot of fun learning sign language with ConnectHear. I learnt it to better connect with and translate the needs of the Deaf,” said Ramsha. In recognising the importance of promoting a diverse, inclusive culture, she added that “everyone should learn sign language”.

Both Zainab and Ramsha prompted the necessity in paving an inclusive path to improved health.

Health care providers should identify the increasing need to facilitate bonds with patients. The need to realise that deafness should not mask provision of health services is dire. Primary healthcare should be Deaf-friendly, and must not render an overwhelming preference towards the hearing. The Deaf should not have to struggle to book an appointment or attain a suitable standard of health services.

Dedicated to creating an inclusive society, we envision a world where access to optimal healthcare is not limited to a certain group. In a realm of societal prejudices, we look forward to further training more students to support the specific needs of the Deaf community and provide them access without discrimination.

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