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Equal access for deaf community improving in Central Virginia

virginia-organizing new2Virginia Organizing leaders are working with several Central Virginia hospitals to improve services for the deaf community, which includes some basic services like having an on-site interpreter available and clearly communicating with clinical staff that a person is deaf or hard of hearing.

Ronna Wertman is one of the leaders in the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro (SAW) Chapter of Virginia Organizing who has been active in this campaign. Wertman got involved after trying to contact the hospitals on her own to discuss her experience interpreting for her mother for hours.

“It was really frustrating not getting anywhere, but knowing something needed to be done,” said Wertman. “Improved services for deaf and hard of hearing people is now on the radar for hospitals because of the work of Virginia Organizing.”

Wertman attended a stakeholder meeting with regards to Virginia House Bill 1956 in Richmond where she shared her story. Afterwards, Virginia Organizing was able to secure a meeting with officials from Augusta Health, a hospital in the Shenandoah Valley.

After that initial meeting, Augusta Health got to work and agreed to improve their services by putting policies in place to alert the appropriate people that a deaf or hard of hearing person has arrived at the hospital. This person will be trained to identify resources needed and make sure they are available—including trained interpreters, Wertman said.

“These meetings are important because hospital administrators need to feel the pulse of the local deaf community in order to function better to provide communication access in medical settings,” said Alissa Conover, a community advocate with Civic Access.

“I was invited to participate in a needs assessment at Augusta Health recently and I’m excited they are working on this important issue to minimize disparities in health care in our community,” said Wertman.

Virginia Organizing has also met with officials from the University of Virginia Medical Center and Martha Jefferson Hospital to help identify where there are deficiencies and work to fix those problems.

Roy Snider is deaf and directly affected by these discussions. He is also working with Virginia Organizing to change the culture in hospitals for members of the deaf community.

“I want to help improve services for all deaf patients in hospitals. Doctors and nurses need better training to understand how to use different interpreting services,” said Snider.

“Virginia Organizing is proud to be working with so many directly affected leaders who are willing to take action, discuss their personal experiences, and organize to create change in their communities,” said Virginia Organizing Chairperson Ladelle McWhorter. “This is what we are all about—empowering people to get results.”



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