In the United States, only approximately 8% of deaf children are born into a home where sign language is the primary language. Put another way, a whopping 92% of deaf children potentially do not receive the linguistic and educational advantages of being raised in a home where they use the same language as their parents. Consider this for a moment: Imagine living in a world where you largely cannot communicate others.
Challenges the Deaf Community May Face
Throughout history, deaf individuals have faced multitudes of societal oppressions due to their hearing status. As children, they are often sent away to schools for the deaf or forced to (unsuccessfully) learn to speak or read lips. They are viewed as intellectually impaired or lazy because they cannot use verbal language. Well-meaning others speak for them or make decisions for them on their behalf. Similar to other cultural minorities, deaf individuals experience a greater incidence of mental health conditions than their hearing counterparts, including substance abuse, depression, trauma, domestic violence, isolation, and poor identity development, to name a few.
Deaf Services and Mental Health Support
Seeking mental health treatment as a deaf individual requires jumping through a number of hoops. There is a lack of access to treatment with a provider who has the knowledge, training, and access to resources that are necessary to fully understand a deaf individual. Psychological assessments are largely normed on the hearing population and thus must be modified for the deaf individual. One of the many challenges is the process of interpreting a standardized tool created for a spoken language into a visual language equivalent which changes the validity and reliability of the assessment tool. Using an interpreter raises concerns as well, as they must possess the qualifications to interpret effectively and impartially in a mental health setting. Oftentimes, the deaf individual will not seek help out of fear or shame of having to share their private concerns through an interpreter. Seeking deaf services and mental health related support can be possible if organizations, such as the Deaf Community Services of San Diego, Inc. and the National Association of the Deaf, can continue to work together to overcome these barriers.
As a psychologist, former educational interpreter, and ally to the deaf community, I hope that I may benefit those whose natural language is sign language by providing a safe and inviting environment where they can access services directly.
By Eriko Lapoint, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist