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A Deaf Parent's Story

Why is this important for Deaf parents with  a hearing child/children who are adults to have effective communication during counseling or family sessions? 

I usually do not share my personal story, as I am a very private person especially when my family or I are struggling or dealing with a very sensitive situation.  However, knowing by sharing my personal story, I will help others have a better understanding about how the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA) has had an impact on my situation.  I would like to share my personal experience with you.

My son had entered a substance use/mental health facility to receive their services.  His therapist requested that it was time for a family session with my son.  I requested to have American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for this meeting.  However, I faced an obstacle when the substance use/mental health service providers said that they would not provide us with an ASL interpreter for effective communication because my son was hearing and an adult.  However, we, as his parents are both Deaf and hard of hearing.  I was getting tired of fighting for my rights to receive effective communication!

According to the National for the Deaf (NAD) website [1] “Access to information and communication with your health care provider is essential for your health and the health of your family and loved ones.  Effective communication with your health care providers is critical to ensure that you have the information you need to make health care decisions.  Doctors, nurses, dentists, specialists, therapists, and other health care providers must communicate effectively with you to provide appropriate, effective, quality health care services.

“Federal disability discrimination laws secure your right to equal access, an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from health care services, and effective communication with health care providers.  These laws include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Each of these laws require health care providers to make their services accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people.  This obligation applies to anyone the health care provider would communicate with – including patients, parents, guardians, companions, and members of the public.  Health care providers must provide accommodations, such as qualified interpreters, real-time captioning (also called CART), assistive listening devices, or other auxiliary aids or services, when necessary to communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Health care providers do not have to provide a specific type of accommodation if they can demonstrate that doing so would be an undue burden (a significant difficulty or expense).  Requests for accommodations should be made in advance, when possible, so the health care provider has enough time to obtain the necessary accommodations.  To demonstrate an undue burden, health care providers must show that the cost to provide the accommodation would significantly impact their practice and financial resources.  Such a showing may be difficult for most health care providers.  When an undue burden can be shown, the health care provider must provide alternative communication access services that would, to the maximum extent possible, ensure effective communication.”

Referring to the previously mentioned NAD statement about federal law, deaf/hard of hearing parents have the right to receive effective communication to the same extent as other parents do during the family session with hearing children; whether they are adults or minors (CODA).  We as parents need to have a better understanding about our son’s addiction and how we can support him every day while he is living with us. I cannot stress enough that my son truly depends on his parents and family to provide the support that he needs.  He cannot fight this ugly battle alone.  His parents and family are his main support system and without that, he will surely fail to thrive through his recovery successfully.  Also, please do not forget that his parents and family members are also struggling with their child/children’s issues and we need to learn how to cope with these issues every day.  We are no different from hearing parents and families in the same situation.  

Some deaf parents may need additional support by using a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) alongside their ASL interpreter.  Now you may want to know do you have to pay for two interpreters, and the answer would “yes” but remember that you want to make sure that you as service providers provides effective communication.  I bet you may want to know why you would hire a CDI?  The CDI is an interpreter who is Deaf who will fully understand the Deaf persons better than hearing interpreters; they will interpret for the ASL interpreters when the Deaf person has challenging language skills.  Just to let you know that not everyone requires CDI and the best person to ask is the consumer who is Deaf or you can ask the interpreter agency what is the best way to provide best effective communication for the Deaf consumer(s). 

Think about this for a moment, do any of the hearing parents attend their adult son/daughter during a family session?  I know that answer is “yes,” so why would it be any different for deaf parents with their hearing adult son/daughter?  We all need to remember that people who are Deaf/deafblind/hard of hearing have the rights to receive the same treatment, as you would provide to others in the same setting as their hearing peers. 

[1] National Association of the Deaf (NAD) website link:

Written by Denise Johnson, BSW who is Wisconsin Statewide Project Coordinator
Substance Use/Mental Health Services for People who are Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing, May 10, 2021