Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to HIV and AIDS prevention. But sometimes groups are overlooked in outreach efforts. This is particularly true in the deaf community, where reading levels can be lower, TV public service announcements are not as effective and radio does not work at all. Medical care providers that can communicate well are limited in number. But one group in southeast Michigan has made it a priority, using Ryan White federal funding, to serve the deaf HIV positive people in the metro Detroit area.
DEAF C.A.N. is an agency dedicated to helping those who cannot hear or who have hearing loss. They offer a wide range of services and support, including their DEAF C.A.N. AIDS Program.
Rosalee Harris has been working with DEAF C.A.N. for four years. She and a small, dedicated staff assist clients who have a wide variety of challenges. “A lot of the time they need help applying for DHS (Department of Human Services) benefits. I have clients that I help with employment, connecting with medical care, social security, court issues.
“The big thing is a lot of people don’t realize that anyone that deals with the public must provide an interpreter for deaf people at their expense. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires this,” Harris said. “If a client is having trouble getting service, I’ll call the business or the agency on their behalf and let them know what the client’s rights are.”
The agency can also help clients connect with services that assist them in communication. There are video phones for deaf people and services that provide over-the-phone translation. For example, a hearing person can call the service and speak to the translator and the person with the video phone can see them and sign a response back. The translator then tells the hearing person what was said. Harris has also helped older clients learn how to text.
Currently there are 13 steady clients for the DEAF C.A.N. AIDS Program, in addition to supporting outside calls for information. Deaf C.A.N. works with local HIV/AIDS prevention organizations to ensure that information remains accessible. They put literature in medical clinics and attend health fairs. This year, on Sept. 28, they will be part of Deaf Celebration Day, an event held every two years to connect the community and share information. This year’s Deaf Celebration Day will be held at Northland Mall in Southfield.
“I love my job,” Harris said. “When I was 18 I found a job in a group home with deaf people and I’ve been helping ever since. I love the customers and being able to see new clients get the things they need to make life better. We take so much for granted.”
In addition to case management for HIV positive clients, DEAF C.A.N. provides a wide range of services to the deaf community, including advocacy, direct services, translation, resources for parents of deaf children, educational materials, workshops and case management.
Learn more at http://deafcan.org/deafaids. For general information go to http://deafcan.org.