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Imagine being a cancer patient and not being able to hear what a
caregiver was saying or see the words on a consent form. What would the
day-to-day logistics of treatment be like when coupled with the
additional challenges of a vision or hearing impairment?
Now, by using newly acquired computer software and equipment,
Dana-Farber patients and family members who are deaf or hard of hearing
can be linked in real-time to an online sign-language interpreter, while
those who have low-vision can scan documents and reformat them
on-screen to larger text and easier-to-read colors tailored to their
People can even have scanned documents read aloud to them by the
computer, an option which will also greatly benefit those with learning
disabilities such as dyslexia.
The new systems can be requested through Interpreter Services, which has them loaded onto a laptop computer transportable to infusion clinics and other consult areas.
Software for the interpreter program has also been added to computers at the Concierge Desk and in the Blum Pediatric Resource Room.
The systems were purchased after research into available tools by
Dana-Farber's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance
Committee, and tested by staff members here with vision or hearing loss.
"Knowing how overwhelming a cancer diagnosis and journey can be, it's
important that we give patients all the tools possible to support them
through the experience," says Kathleen Horvath, a patient/family
relations specialist in Quality Improvement/Risk Management, and
co-chair of the ADA Committee.
The acquisition of the equipment is part of an increased focus on
disability issues by the Institute since Horvath and co-chair Lisa
Foster, director of Occupational Health Services, took on their ADA
leadership roles in January.
Dana-Farber always has sign language interpreters on call to help
patients who are among the approximately one in eight individuals who
has some level of hearing loss, as estimated by the National Institutes
One is booked each time such a patient is scheduled to come in, with
efforts made to "match up" the same interpreters and patients.
"The challenge is that patients may be here for up to eight hours,
between appointments and infusion sessions," explains Laura Nakazawa of Interpreter Services. "The interpreters are busy working
with many patients, some of them in other hospitals. They may stay for
the first part of chemotherapy, but the patient may have a question or
concern after the interpreter leaves."
This is where the new service, known as NexTalk, comes in. With the
help of trained caregivers, the patient can be connected to a live,
online interpreter. A webcam and microphone allow the interpreter to see
and hear both patient and caregiver, making conversation possible as if
all were in the same room.
"This is an excellent alternative for those patients who use sign
language, especially when there is not an American Sign Language
interpreter, a family member, or another advocate to help with
communication," says James Wiggins, a sign language interpreter at
Dana-Farber and partnering Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Wiggins says it's frustrating when he can't stay for a patient's entire visit. "This is the next best thing to having us there."
Blind and low-vision patients and family members using the Zoom-Ex
and ZoomText system will have the same easy access to assistance by
laptop. A larger, stationary scanning system is housed in the Blum
Resource Room for adults, located off the Dana lobby.
Dana Jackson of Grants and Contracts, a legally blind staff member who tried out the system, says it will be a huge help.
"In the stress of everything else going on, families will really
appreciate being able to quickly make something more readable on their
own. It's all about making things easier and more accessible."