Communication Guide for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People at the Hospital During COVID-19 Pandemic
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, how will you be able to talk to doctors, nurses and others at the hospital? This guide is to help you get ready for your hospital visit.
Going to the hospital will be very different during the pandemic.
In normal times, hospitals must give services that help you understand what is being said and are supposed to ask you what services you need. This might include in-person sign language interpreters, Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), lip-reading, written communications, hand-held amplification devices, captioning or CART, or speech-to-text apps.
Now, during the pandemic, most hospitals are seeing a large number of patients and often cannot provide the same services. Many hospitals will not allow in-person interpreters, family members, or visitors to come into the hospital. You may be alone for a long time when you are in the hospital.
Most doctors and nurses in hospitals now wear masks and gloves and may talk to you from behind a window or curtain, so it may be harder for you to understand them.
You have the right to decide your care. This means you will need to know a few things and bring your own communication tools to the hospital during the pandemic:
- Print out a page saying you are deaf, hard of hearing, or DeafBlind and need hospital staff to communicate with you differently. A sample page (placard) is below.
- If you have a smartphone, load the apps you need to communicate, and bring your smartphone with you.
- Before you go to the hospital, download several VRI apps and/or speech-to-text apps. Some of those apps are free.
- A list of apps is available below.
- Test the apps at home before you go to the hospital.
- Keep in mind you may have to use your smartphone using your cellular connection only1 in case the hospital does not have WiFi.
- When you get to the hospital, ask hospital staff to let you use their WiFi, and to put you in an area with strong WiFI.
- Tell hospital staff to communicate with you through your smartphone with VRI or speech-to-text apps.
- If you do not have a smartphone, bring or ask hospital staff for something to write on and pens or markers.
- Bring an emergency bag with items you need to communicate. Label the bag and items with your name. Leave space on the label to add your hospital room number. The emergency bag can include:
- Paper and pens or markers
- Plugs and chargers for your smartphone
- Tablets and/or laptops and chargers
- A cellular hotspot in case the hospital WiFi is not working
- An extension cord or power strip in case your bed is far from an outlet
- Extra eyewear supplies you might need, such as reading glasses to read the speech to text on a phone app
- Extra batteries for your hearing aid, cochlear implant, or assistive listening device
- A copy of your advance medical directive, if you have one. You can find more information and instructions to make an advance directive on AARP’s website
- Emergency contact information for family members or friends
If the hospital staff refuses to talk with you or respect your wishes, demand an “ethics consultation.”