Advocating for the Deaf Community

Published on 27 January 2021

P3 student Steven Kramer is using his passion for American Sign Language (ASL) and pharmacy as a way to raise awareness about ways to support the Deaf community and empower individuals with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout his time as a student at University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis, Kramer has partnered with various advocacy organizations to coordinate health fairs that serve underrepresented patient populations including members of the Deaf community and people with disabilities, while also raising awareness among health care professionals about the patient care and communication needs of the underserved.

As the pandemic swept the nation, many health fairs and advocacy events were canceled, but Kramer continued to find a way to advocate.

“The pandemic brought health inequities to the forefront,” Kramer added. “Many nonprofits were forced to reevaluate how to advocate for their patients and raise awareness for their causes.”

After connecting with leaders at the COVID Advocacy Exchange, a virtual platform that provides a place for advocacy organizations to collaborate during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kramer was invited to serve as a guest speaker during the exchange’s Taking Action to Correct Health Inequities virtual event.

Speaking alongside nationally-recognized leaders in health care, Kramer spoke about ways health care professionals can better serve members of the Deaf community.

Kramer explained that many health care professionals are unfamiliar with the needs of this population because of the lack of awareness that exists regarding ways to support patients who have disabilities.

“Requesting an interpreter is a great first step if your patient needs one, but there is much more that goes into supporting individuals with disabilities,” he said. “Being able to adapt to your patients’ unique set of needs and answer their questions is what helps us work toward equity in health care.”

During his presentation, Kramer referenced his personal experience in meeting an 11-year-old boy who was deaf. The boy was unable to read, write, sign or lip-read because he didn’t have access to support resources during the formative years of his life. Eventually, the boy was adopted by a hearing family who wanted to help him communicate, so Kramer helped connect the boy and his new family to resources that would allow them to learn ASL together. Throughout the process, Kramer watched the boy’s confidence flourish as he learned how to communicate using ASL.

“Unfortunately, this student’s story is common within the Deaf community,” Kramer added. “This boy’s experience is one of many examples as to why I am motivated to ensure all patients have access to supportive resources, no matter how they communicate.”

Not only is Kramer passionate about educating health care professionals on the challenges that patients with disabilities and members of the Deaf community face when seeking health care, but he continues to expand upon his own advocacy efforts.

“I recently reached out to the National Black Deaf Advocates organization about how to get more involved in advocating for members of the Black Deaf and hard of hearing community,” he said. “Ensuring that I am culturally competent when serving patients is very important. I want to uplift my patients’ voices and empower people with disabilities to advocate for their health.”

Inspired by the information and resources he received from the National Black Deaf Advocates organization, Kramer set up a virtual movie night on campus to encourage his peers to learn more about Black American Sign Language, a dialect of ASL most commonly used among members of the Black and African American community who are deaf.

Kramer has also volunteered with the BESt Pharmacy Summer Institute, a partnership between Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Express Scripts Inc. and the University developed to introduce underrepresented high school students to careers in health care.

“I am always learning and growing my own understanding of how to be an inclusive health care professional,” he added. “By continuing to raise awareness among health care professionals on ways to support diverse patient populations, I can continue to help ensure all patients have access to the patient care and support resources they deserve.”

At University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis, people from around the world come together in pursuit of a shared vision. Their diverse cultures, values, beliefs, interests, experiences and viewpoints enrich our campus community.

Learn more about our diversity and inclusion efforts on campus.

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