Individuals with hearing disabilities are a diverse group. In
America, there are approximately 11,000,000 persons who are either
Deaf or hard of hearing (Mitchell, 2006). A major segment of this
population defines themselves as Deaf. This is a tight-knit group
whose primary source of communication and identity is through the
use of American Sign Language (Andrews, Leigh, & Weiner, 2003). Many
have severe to profound hearing deficits and when defined
accordingly in the United States there are approximately 1,000,000
Deaf persons above the age of 5 years old (Mitchell, 2006).
In contrast to the Deaf population, there are also the those persons
who refer to themselves as the hard of hearing. They can communicate
through lip-reading as well as through both speech and written
communication. Such individuals may have had hearing loss late in
life, or use a hearing aid or a cochlear implant (Vernon & College,
Historically, individuals with hearing disabilities lacked access to
appropriate mental health treatment before the 1960ís (Vernon &
Leigh, 2007). As a result, they were often placed with hearing
individuals and employees who had no way of communicating
effectively with them. Such circumstances led to ineffective
treatment and overall misdiagnosis. This short paper will explore
both past and as well as current mental health services for those
individuals seeking mental health treatment.
Psychological Services for the Death and Hard of Hearing- A
The groundwork for early research in psychology and deafness
exhibited some interesting findings. Early studies showed that when
the verbal IQ scores of Deaf children were compared to IQ scores of
children with no hearing deficits, the IQ scores of the children
with hearing deficits often fell in the impaired range. However,
results eventually showed that it was language deprivation as a
consequence of deafness that was being measured rather than a true
verbal IQ (Drever & Collins, 1928). As a result psychologist began
to focus on performance IQ and created test batteries that were more
effective in evaluating the IQís of Deaf persons. Such batteries are
still used today and include the Raven Progressive Matrices and the
Chicago Non-Verbal Examination created in the early 1940ís (Vernon,
In the 1950ís few mental health facilities offered staff who had
been trained in sign language and could communicate effectively with
individuals who were Deaf (Vernon & Daigle-King, 1999). Research has
shown that patients with hearing disabilities remained hospitalized
for a longer period of time and received more serious diagnosis than
individuals without hearing impairments in both the United States
and in Europe (Basiler, 1964).
During the decades between the 1970ís and the 1990ís several
important legislative items were passed that gave individuals with
disabilities, including those who were Deaf rights which they had
not had beforehand. They include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the
Education for All Handicapped Act (1975) and the Americans with
Disabilities Act 1990 (Geer, 2003). This work along with the
Gallaudet Universityís Law Center for the Deaf outlined a legal
framework in which to lobby for equality and accessibility for many
different services including education, communication and
employment. Current Mental Health Services Available to the Deaf
and Hard of Hearing
Today when compared to several decades ago mental health services
for the Deaf and hard of hearing have improved tremendously. An
example of this can be seen in the work done by Gallaudet
University, a school dedicated to working with deaf and hard of
hearing persons. The school has created programs in school
counseling and has implemented a clinical psychology Ph.D program
accredited by the America Psychological Association (APA) for those
interested in working with this population (Vernon, 1995).
Although many advances have been made regarding the availability of
psychological services for the Deaf have been made, this continues
to be an area of needed growth. A
recent study indicated
that as many as 8096 children with hearing disabilities are educated
in traditional programs around the country (Gallaudet Research
Institute, 2006). Such programs differ in level of experience in
providing services to these children and their families. For
example, psychologist and mental health therapist who do not know
sign language and are not educated on deaf culture. Such gaps in
knowledge can have serious consequences leading to either under
diagnosis or misdiagnosis of those seeking services.
Severe ethical and legal problems can arise when psychologist does
not know sign language and little to knowledge about working with
the Deaf culture (Raifman & Vernon, 1996). Psychologists have an
ethical obligation to adhere to a high standard of care when working
with all individuals with disabilities, including the deaf culture.
Nationally, there a only a small number of residential facilities
available for those individuals with hearing impairments requiring
Despite the above mentioned problems in mental health services to
persons with hearing disabilities, there has been improvement over
the last few decades. The APA has taken an increased interest in
deafness, specifically via the leadership of those psychologist
involved in the deaf culture. With such efforts it is hopeful that
the area of psychology will continue to grow and expand in order to
better meet the needs of individuals with hearing impairments that
maybe seeking mental health services.
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