Program Spotlight: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services

Feb 24, 2023

People Incorporated is a leader in providing culturally competent and integrated mental health, medical, and independent living services to the deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind communities. Our broad system of care related to deaf and hard of hearing services (DHHS) includes inpatient care in 24-hour supportive residential living facilities, a drop-in clinic providing health resources and social activities, and in-home services to promote independent living and support clients with daily needs. This program’s seven staff members support nearly 100 clients through DHHS each year.

One of DHHS’s most unique offerings is the opportunity for clients to participate in community events through its drop-in center. For the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, these types of events are rare since most available services are one-on-one, but the staff has been able to organize State Fair outings, cooking classes, and other community-building group events made possible because all DHHS program staff live with some kind of hearing loss, too. Jessica Howe, a DHHS Supervisor, has been with People Incorporated for 14 years and enjoys being able to use her primary mode of communication, ASL, in her work.

“All of our team has some kind of hearing loss, so we’re able to relate with our clients. We understand what they’re going through to some degree,” said Howe. “Because of this, we have an instant rapport with them. Clients come to us when they see that we’re deaf like they are.”

One of the main functions of DHHS revolves around communication – how to support clients in healthcare encounters when they are communicating their mental health needs.

“Sometimes, when deaf people have meetings with a health specialist, they’ll have interpreters, but it’s never the same interpreter across sessions. In that case, does the interpreter really understand that client?” said Howe. “Do they understand, or are they just taking a message and relaying it? It isn’t the same. We, on the other hand, will advocate for them throughout the treatment process, making sure the client gets their full message across. We are facilitators so that both parties understand each other.”

DHHS connects clients to resources for therapy and psychiatry, like a therapist who can sign, along with access to interpreters and deaf accommodating crisis programs. Usually, Howe said, deaf clients receiving mental health care feel like they are misunderstood, perhaps that the interpreter doesn’t understand the severity of their condition. DHHS offers a deaf-lead crisis line that can properly funnel these needs, and individuals can call the line and use ASL to express their situation.

DHHS staff works to provide resources and person-centered guidance to clients so that they can live successful lives according to their own personal goals. This is important for a community that faces unique barriers to accessing mental health care.

“We’re here to support them and their goals, whatever those may be,” said Howe. “We provide resources and guidance so they can live successful lives.”

To learn more about DHHS, visit the People Incorporated Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s program page. When you give a gift to People Incorporated, you can support gaps in care that insurance does not cover; visit the Give online page to make an impact today.