Science & tech

Can sign language tools help improve care for Deaf patients?

A research project in Amsterdam is developing a machine translation tool to improve communication between healthcare professionals and Deaf patients. Abi Millar finds out more.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a uniquely challenging time for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Most obviously, face masks render lip-reading impossible. They also muffle speech and remove other cues like facial expressions – a real issue for people with minor hearing loss who would previously have been able to get by.

On top of that, many deaf people have struggled with the shift to video meetings, few of which accommodate their needs. Some have skipped testing or vaccination appointments, which often must be booked by telephone only. Others have grappled with a lack of accurate information, such as when the UK Government failed to provide sign language interpreters during its daily coronavirus briefings.

The worst experiences, however, have been reserved for hospitalised patients who rely on sign language. At the height of the pandemic, patients were not allowed access to an interpreter – meaning they had very limited means of communicating with healthcare staff.

Read the rest of this article in the December 2021 edition of Medical Technology

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