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  • Disability Services

    Tech tools help cancer patients with vision, hearing challenges

    Laura Nakazawa of Interpreter Services uses the NexTalk system to communicate with David RhodesLaura Nakazawa of Interpreter Services uses the NexTalk system to communicate with David Rhodes, director of operations at video remote-interpreting company Lifelinks. 

    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 needs.

    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 of Health.

    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."

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