Hartford HealthCare launched a new initiative this past week to help make coronavirus vaccinations more accessible and equitable for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The health care group, partnered with the American School for the Deaf, hosted four vaccine clinics this past week — in Hartford and Wallingford on Wednesday, and Bridgeport and Foxwoods Resort Casino on Saturday — designed to be more accommodating for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Interpreters were available to translate directions and questions into sign language and some medical staff were wearing see-through masks that allowed patients to better read lips and facial expressions.
Barbara Morris of Farmington, a board member for the Connecticut Association of the Deaf, waited patiently at the entrance to the vaccination site at Foxwoods all day on Saturday, ready and willing to help anyone who was deaf or hard of hearing navigate the vaccination process.
Morris, who is deaf, is already fully vaccinated herself, but came to the clinic to assist anyone who needed help figuring out where to go, how to check in or how to answer questions about their medical history.
“Access should be something that is available every day, in every area in every venue and I’m very happy they’re doing this now,” Morris said in sign language through an interpreter, Maria Micioni from Source Interpreting. She said she wishes that interpreters were made more widely available at all vaccine clinics earlier in the year because without that access, navigating such a clinic could be quite difficult.
Morris said a lot of things have been more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. When mandatory mask mandates were put in place, it was instantly more challenging for her and other people who rely heavily on reading facial expressions to communicate with hearing people.
“Talk about an instant barrier,” Morris said. The see-through masks, she said, are a huge help.
During her own vaccine appointment, she said she was able to video chat with an interpreter using a digital device the vaccine clinic in Bridgeport provided; Hartford HealthCare had those devices available at its clinics, too. The device was helpful when she was answering questions about allergies just before getting her shot, she said, but it’s always better to have a real, live person around to represent the community and make everyone feel welcome.
At a news conference Wednesday, Dr. James Cardon, chief clinical integration officer for Hartford HealthCare, said the clinics held this past week were part of “an initiative to continue to ensure that we’re leaving no community left behind as we work to provide vaccines to all members of our community.”
Cardon said an important goal for the health care group is “to remove all barriers we can conceive of to make sure that people feel safe and that they are moving into a trusted environment to be able to get vaccines. That’s going to be essential for us to get through this nightmare of a pandemic.”
Jeffrey Bravin, executive director of the American School for the Deaf, who spoke in sign language with an interpreter translating, said that people in the deaf and hard of hearing community have faced some struggles with vaccination sites.
Wednesday’s and Saturday’s clinics, including the one at Foxwoods, were one of the first steps in making sure that people in those communities “will have equal access to vaccines so that our state will continue to be safe,” Bravin said.
More than 600 people were vaccinated at Foxwoods on Saturday. Hartford HealthCare was not collecting data about individuals’ hearing so was not able to provide data on how many deaf or hard of hearing people came to the clinic.