Crisis: Mental Health Services for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing/Deaf Blind

By Eva Dicker Eiseman

Eva Dicker Eiseman has been working on committees trying to improve services for people who cannot hear or cannot see, or both, for more than 25 years, “But we have not made much progress in that time,” she said. Obviously, she is far from giving up this pursuit of justice. She is a member of the Legislative Committee of the Wisconsin Association Of The Deaf, which is working on several pieces of legislation, including providing adequate mental health services for this underserved population. Email your questions to her at saftaeve@gmail.com

People who are deaf/hard of hearing and deaf blind are an underserved cultural and linguistic population within the nation’s mental health system. It is not unusual for a person within these categories to be misdiagnosed. Communication issues, as well as cultural and language issues, are often mistaken for a mental illness or mental retardation.

The National Association of the Deaf has issued a position paper stating that these individuals should be able to access mental health services that are culturally and linguistically equal in quality and effectiveness as those services provided to those individuals who are able to hear.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Services continue to be inadequate for the deaf, hard of hearing and deaf blind people, depriving them of so many of services that are linguistically and culturally suitable for them. And yet, they also pay taxes. They should have the same accessibility that individuals who hear receive.

Direct communication essential

This means that the mental health providers who deliver these services must have the following skills:

  • The ability to communicate directly. Frequently, this requires fluency in American Sign Language, but may include other modes of visual or signed communication systems

  • Providers need to be sure that appropriate use of services and adaptive technology is used, generally best identified and utilized by the consumer and his/her family members. This may include qualified and certified interpreters, assistive listening devices and real-time captioning services.

Providers need to be aware of and sensitive to the cultural and linguistic factors that impact the quality of their mental health services to people who cannot hear or see.

The whole array of effective and accessible cultural and cross-cultural services need to be provided based on the identified and assessed needs of each individual.

Several states provide adequate mental health services; many of these states have been forced into providing these services due to litigation. The state closest to Wisconsin providing a whole array of adequate services is Minnesota.

Several attempts have been made to promote legislation that would mandate these services, but so far, all attempts have failed and people in need remain underserved within this nation’s mental health system.

The National Association of the Deaf believes that deaf people benefit the most from direct mental health services. In other words, rather than using a qualified interpreter, it would be best to have Deaf or hearing providers who are linguistically and culturally sensitive working with consumers. At the present time, the state of Wisconsin has only 3 providers who fit this description.

It is difficult to attract qualified individuals to Wisconsin to provide these services: there is no plan in place to provide a full array of mental health services to people who are deaf, some who also are blind. In addition, it is not easy for those providers to secure a license in Wisconsin. There has been no reciprocity from other states.

We are at a standstill in the state of Wisconsin. We need a delivery system that is sensitive to the linguistic and cultural needs of this population. Legislation has been drafted and proposed, but it has been met with a great deal of opposition for several years.

At this point, the National Association of the Deaf has stated that mental health accessibility and appropriate services is their number one priority nationwide. Wisconsin must follow Minnesota’s lead and begin to institute an array of mental health services for those of us who cannot hear, and those who also cannot see.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on April 28, 2018

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