People who are deaf have the right to the same level of eye care offered to other patients and, under law, practices are responsible for providing an interpreter when required.
The rules and regulations around eye care for deaf people were highlighted by sign language interpreters Debbie Conway and Frankie Sheppard during their Working with deaf patients talk at 100% Optical (12–14 January).
The Islington Council duo used their session to provide practitioners with tips on communicating effectively with deaf patients. “Never assume a person’s communication needs, always ask them,” Ms Conway emphasised.
With experience of working with opticians in the London Borough of Islington, Ms Sheppard shared insight into some of the nuisances that she has encountered as an interpreter.
“Always wait for the interpreter to arrive before calling the patient in,” she said, revealing that she has arrived at appointments before for the patient to have already been called in for their eye test.
She advises optometrists to always explain the process of the eye examination and the tests that they are going to do before they turn the light off in the testing room. “Remember, once the light is off, it is often hard for both the interpreter and the patient to see each other clearly and therefore knowing what is expected from the test before the lights go out is really useful,” she said.
Ms Sheppard explained that using visual cues, such as a pen light to point to equipment when the light is off, and keeping terminology simple can aid the interpretation process and boost understanding.
She highlighted that British Sign Language is two-handed and therefore ensuring that the deaf patient’s hands are free to sign to the interpreter at all times is important.
Ms Sheppard recommends that practices extend the appointment time and book the interpreter for around an hour and a half. “This will allow time after the eye test too for selecting glasses and discussing payment,” she said.
Ms Conway highlighted that there is a national shortage of language interpreters, with just 1000 interpreters to the estimated 70,000 deaf people in England. As a result, the waiting list for interpreters is around two to four weeks.
While it may be difficult to arrange an interpreter at short notice, Ms Conway and Ms Sheppard stressed that using family members or carers is not advised. “You do not know how well they can sign,” they said. Using a professional interpreter ensures that communication is accurate and can avoid risks of litigation down the line, they added.
Ms Conway explained that practices can claim reimbursement for interpreters via NHS England. “There is no specific form to fill in for the reimbursement claim, but you will need to provide your practice details and proof of payment,” she said, confirming that it should be sent to England.firstname.lastname@example.org
Practitioners can find a national register of interpreters on The National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People website.