Story by Maria Christina Yager on 07/10/2019Fort Campbell, Ky. - Beneficiaries and staff at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital can learn and practice American Sign Language during a free group that meets twice a month.
"We initially started it with the staff to improve communication with our deaf and hard-of-hearing patients and staff members we have here at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, but we would love the opportunity for our patients to join us as well," said Nicole Fitzwater, an employee at BACH who volunteers her time to facilitate the group.
Fitzwater, who is hearing impaired herself and uses a hearing aid, studied sign language in college and used it to communicate with one of her children who was hearing impaired.
"I took three years of [American Sign Language] and during that time my son had many ear infections and was considered extremely hard of hearing at that point and so we used it with him to be able to communicate. He was able to get surgery to correct that and hears just fine now, but still remembers his signing," she said.
Even after her son's corrective surgery, Fitzwater said she still tried to maintain her proficiency and is happy to help others learn.
"It's one of those skills that if you don't use it, you lose it. So, I wanted to stay current with ASL and be able to bring that here to our patients," said Fitzwater. She teamed up with fellow BACH employees, nurse Kelly Money and medical record technician Wendyann Deasis-Dubois.
Money said she initially signed up for ASL to fulfill a foreign language requirement for college.
"I took my first class simply for college credit and figured I would learn the basics and go on with the rest of my required classes. After my first semester, I was absolutely in love with the language."
At the time, Money was working at Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado. She befriend three deaf coworkers at the hospital and began practicing and improving her ASL through their newfound friendship.
"They were extremely welcoming and grateful that I was even attempting to learn to sign to communicate with them. From there it has just been a love in my life. I teach my son so that he knows what to look for and can try to communicate too. It is his favorite as well. I think that aside from being an absolutely beautiful language, what makes me want to keep signing is the gratitude and acceptance that I have received from the deaf community. Not one of them has ever cast me aside for being a hearing individual," said Money.
Deasis-Dubois said she was born with profound hearing loss after her mother contracted Ruebella, (German measles) during pregnancy.
"I first learned how to sign when I was a baby, but mostly read lips. Speech therapy from school helped me to speak more clearly. The three of us love to teach ASL class at the hospital. The people are great and the environment is friendly and open to teaching," she said.
An interpreter certified in healthcare interpreting is required by law for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing. BACH and many other health care organizations use an outside provider for video remote interpreting when those services are required but Fitzwater said introducing staff to ASL and deaf culture can serve as a bridge.
"What we're doing here is we're teaching just the basic communication. We want our staff to be comfortable speaking with patients who are deaf and hard of hearing and to be able to say hi. Tell them their name. Say, nice to meet you, welcome to our facility, and that they are going to go get the VRI so they can get the video interpreting.
The class meets at noon on the first Monday and third Wednesday of the month in a hospital training room. The next session will be at noon, Wednesday, July 17 in the commander's classroom.
Follow www.facebook.com/BACH.Fort.Campbell/ to get updates on meeting times and locations.