Recap: SecureVideo Attends NCTRC Webinar: Advocating for Equitable Access to Telehealth for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Patients

With approximately 48 million people in the United States experiencing some form of hearing loss, ensuring equitable access to healthcare services has become increasingly urgent, as stated by Jan Withers, Director of Division Services for The Deaf and Hard of Hearing in North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services. Despite strides in telehealth, many within the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities find themselves facing significant barriers when seeking medical care. Advocates are pushing for change, striving for a healthcare system that offers equal opportunities for all.

Barriers to Effective Communication

Telehealth platforms, while revolutionary in their potential, often fall short in catering to the needs of individuals with hearing impairments. Connectivity issues can render video calls with interpreters choppy, hindering effective communication. Moreover, these platforms are frequently not designed with accessibility in mind, leaving many deaf patients struggling to engage fully with their healthcare providers. Providers may also lack the time or digital skills to manage accessibility features effectively, exacerbating the problem.

Sign language interpreters, though vital, may not always be adequately qualified to interpret complex medical discussions, leading to misunderstandings and potential risks to patient health. Additionally, there is a lack of awareness regarding the diverse communication methods employed by individuals with hearing loss, further complicating matters.

Accessibility Solutions

Addressing these challenges requires proactive measures. Telehealth platforms must prioritize accessibility, ensuring that features such as customizable video frames and captioning options are readily available. For optimal effectiveness, it is crucial to engage individuals with firsthand experiences during the testing and development stages of these platforms. Healthcare facilities should also implement policies and provide training to ensure communication equity is upheld in every interaction.

Hearing Loss Populations and Their Telehealth Accommodations

Darian Gambrell, Director for Deaf Inc. in the Greater Boston Area of Massachusetts, illuminates the diverse needs of deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind patients. For deaf individuals, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and captioning services are essential. Hard-of-hearing individuals may benefit from assistive living devices and real-time captioning, while deaf-blind patients require tactile ASL and close-vision interpreters. Understanding these unique needs is crucial for providing effective accommodations in healthcare settings.

Telehealth Scenarios: Patient Experience with and without Accommodations

Tony Davis, Accessibility Resources Manager for the Division of Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing in North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, explores various telehealth scenarios. When accommodations are provided, patients can engage fully in their healthcare appointments, leading to improved outcomes and satisfaction. However, when these accommodations are lacking, patients may feel isolated and frustrated, highlighting the urgent need for systemic change.

Video Demonstrations

Video 1 and 2:

These videos depict appointments where a deaf patient requested an American Sign Language interpreter. In the first video, no interpreter was provided, leading to ineffective communication. In the second video, an interpreter was present, resulting in effective communication and a smoother appointment.

Video 3 and 4:

These videos involve a hard-of-hearing patient who requested Communication Access to Real-time Translation (CART) captioning. In the first video, CART captioning was not provided, leading to confusion. In the second video, CART captioning was provided, leading to effective communication.

Video 5 and 6:

These videos feature a deaf-blind patient who requested a tactile sign language interpreter. In the first video, the wrong interpreter was provided, leading to communication barriers. In the second video, the correct interpreter was provided, resulting in effective communication.

Video 7 and 8:

This video showcases a deaf patient calling a provider’s office through Video Relay Services to schedule a telehealth appointment. Despite the request for an American Sign Language interpreter, the scheduler insists on an in-office appointment. In the second video, the scheduler said they’d go ahead and set up the interpreter for the telehealth appointment.

Video 9 and 10:

These videos challenge viewers to understand the difficulties faced by patients with hearing loss, particularly in deciphering facial expressions and lip-reading during telehealth appointments.

Reflections on Video Demonstrations

The presenter reflects on each video demonstration, emphasizing the importance of providing appropriate communication accommodations for patients with hearing loss. Ineffective communication methods, such as relying solely on written text or providing the wrong type of interpreter, can hinder patient-provider interactions and impact patient outcomes.

Telehealth Experiences and Resources

The presenter shares experiences reported by individuals with hearing loss during telehealth appointments, highlighting challenges and disparities in access to care. Additionally, valuable resources, including guidance documents and communication accommodation request letters, are introduced to assist healthcare providers in better serving patients with hearing loss.

Provider Bias in Healthcare

Dr. Nutt discusses physician bias towards patients with disabilities and the challenges of accommodating their needs within healthcare settings. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing both conscious and unconscious biases to improve access to care and reduce healthcare disparities.


The webinar illuminates the importance of ensuring communication access for individuals with hearing loss during telehealth appointments. By providing appropriate accommodations and addressing provider bias, healthcare providers can enhance patient-provider interactions and deliver more equitable healthcare services. Get started with SecureVideo today to serve this demographic.