Doctors with Blindness and Vision Loss Break Attitudinal Barriers

Dr. Jeffrey Gazzara, DO, is a resident in neuromusculoskeletal medicine at Mercy Health Muskegon in Muskegon, Mich. According to an article in DO, from the American Osteopathic Association, Dr. Gazzara is legally blind.

A three-dimensional white figure wears glasses, walks with a white cane, and has a yellow arm band with three black dots.
What preconceptions do you have about what a person who is blind or has low vision can or can’t do? Do you believe they can be doctors? If you don’t believe they can, are you basing that on your experience with sight, or on your experience with blindness?

Dr. Jeffery Gazzara, DO

As with doctors with blindness before him, Dr. Gazzara says that treating the patient is easiest. Adapting to existing medical systems is more difficult for a doctor with vision loss.

“During my clinical years,” he said, “I was rotating in a different hospital every month. That was difficult because I use a special computer system and I had to reconfigure it to access each hospital’s electronic medical record system.”

Dr. Jacob Bolotin

Dr. Gazzara is among other doctors influenced by the success of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, who became the world’s first fully licensed medical doctor, and who was blind since birth.

this picture is a graphic of two hands forming a heart and showing a heart beat pattern. The heart also makes multiple hearts as a representation of beats.
Together with captions for pictures, Sign Shares’ blog posts include Alternate Text for people who use screen readers. That way, they will know that this picture is a graphic of two hands forming a heart and showing a heart beat pattern. Photo credit: geralt, pixabay

According to a National Federation of the Blind article, Dr. Jacob Bolotin “fought prejudice and misconceptions about the capabilities of blind people in order to win acceptance to medical school and then into the medical profession. He was one of the most respected physicians in Chicago in the early twentieth century, particularly well known for his expertise on diseases of the heart and lungs.”

Commenting in 1914 on Dr. Bolotin’s accomplishments, the Philadelphia Inquirer observed, “It is one of the most amazing instances of mind triumphant over physical handicaps that the world has ever known… [Dr. Bolotin] will rank with Helen Keller as one of the wonderful blind persons of history.”

Dr. David Hartman

According to a Gettysburg College article, Dr. David Hartman, a psychiatrist and author, was the first blind person to complete medical school in the U.S.

Dr. Hartman lost his sight at age 8 to glaucoma, according to the article. Though he earned a bachelor’s degree with highest honors and distinction, he was rejected by nine medical schools.

Dr. Hartman wrote a story of his medical experiences, White Coat, White Cane: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Blind Physician, which was published in 1978, and is the subject of a television movie, Journey from Darkness.

Dr. Timothy Cordes, MD

Dr. Timothy Cordes, MD, has progressive vision loss and is on staff at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wis.

Dr. Cordes is a psychiatrist who specializes in Addictive Behaviors.

According to an article in The Braille Monitor, Dr. Cordes  interviewed at a residency in the northeast. His interviewer asked, “You know, I just don’t get it. How are you going to know what’s going on with a patient?”

He said, “Well I know you’re reading your email right now as you are talking to me.” Dr. Cordes attributed his sense of humor to part of his success.

Graphic shows a three dimensional model of the bones of the lower part of the spine, hips, and pelvis.
Anatomical models are one of many tools people with low vision or blindness can use during medical education.

Dr. Cordes did things many people with sight might find extraordinary, such as operating: “I scrubbed in, holding that retractor for hours on end. I reached into live people’s bellies and identified organs and blood vessels. I caught babies. In pediatrics I examined kids. One of the children’s parents was a guy I knew. He said, after they finished the exam and walked out, his son said, ‘That was fine, Dad, but who was the dog for?'”

For an Eyeway.org article, Dr. Cordes was asked if there were people who were skeptical about his wanting to study Medicine.

He said, “Everybody but the University of Wisconsin! All the other places just said, ‘No, thanks.'”

According to an NBC News report, “In a world where skeptics always seem to be saying, stop, this isn’t something a blind person should be doing, it was one more barrier overcome. There are only a handful of blind doctors in this country. But Cordes makes it clear he could not have joined this elite club alone. ‘I signed on with a bunch of real team players who decided that things are only impossible until they’re done,’ he says.”

Sign Shares Logo of hands and slogan, Interpreting Your WorldAt Sign Shares, we believe in exploring our potential and horizons and not putting limitations on what a person can do.

If you’re a person who is Deaf-Blind and you need interpretive services to make your dreams a reality, have your college or business contact us here to learn more!

Deaf and Interpreter Physicians Open Doors for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

Doctor sitting at desk reaches out hand for a handshake.
Who determines which qualified candidates will still be rejected at medical school because of a disability? Is it still happening? How many doctors with disabilities do you know?

While many doctors with hearing only worry about earning good grades in their classes–doctors with deafness worry about admission to medical school after the good grades. In the past and perhaps in the present–doctoral candidates who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing wondered if they would be admitted at all, despite their other abilities.

Some pursued their profession past all advice and against the rejection from myriad medical schools. Another crossed the communication barrier and became a Certified ASL Interpreter to meet the needs of patients who wanted to openly communicate with their physician.

The following doctors are pioneers that have opened doors to medical school for people with hearing loss or deafness, and to the Deaf Community. They opened the minds of a Hearing Community that didn’t understand their abilities were less by the ability to hear than by the societal attitudes that believed they couldn’t achieve.

DEAF DOCTORS WHO OPENED DOORS
TO MEDICAL SCHOOL

Picture of a door with punch number code
These physicians with deafness unlocked doors that were closed to them by physician and medical school gatekeepers.

Dr. Judith Ann Pachciarz lost her hearing as a toddler, according to Celebrating America’s Woman Physicians. She believes she may be the first deaf person in history to earn both a Ph.D. and an M.D. She is also the “first profoundly deaf woman physician.” Dr. Pachciarz served as doctor at the 1985 World Games for the Deaf in the Los Angeles area.

Dr. Pachciarz advocated for the right to study to be a doctor when they were considering Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

A pile of keys of different sizes and colors
There are many keys to open access to careers, including education, advocacy, and communication tools.

“In 1963 I met all the qualifications for medical school admission as I did in 1979. In 1977 I wrote Health Education and Welfare Secretary [Joseph] Califano, who was considering the provisions of Section 504: ‘I am a thirty-five year old deaf woman who has wanted to be a doctor of medicine since early childhood. I have encountered resistance and discrimination at every step from grade school through graduate work to a Ph.D…thus the enthusiasm, expertise, and dedication I could provide to health care…is denied…When will our equal educational opportunities be protected under the law? Fifteen years—how much longer do I have to wait?’ Secretary Califano signed Section 504 after concerted collective action, and I was accepted into medical school two years later,” she said in the article.

At the time of the article, Dr. Pachciarz was a hospital pathologist and director of the blood transfusion service at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.

Picture of an older man in a suit with the words...Deaf doctor makes patients feel heard.
A screen shot of Dr. Phillip Zazove on CNN.

According to a CNN report, Dr. Phillip Zazove, who is deaf, “makes patients feel heard.” Zazove, who has profound hearing loss, was the third if American physician. Not only does he serve the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, but he also mentors doctors who are deaf.

According to the article, Dr. Philip Zazove is an author, physician and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan.

Drs. Pachciarz and Zazove were both told as children not to expect much for careers. They chose to be pioneers and advocates, instead of giving up.

DR. AND INTERPRETER WHO RAISES THE BAR FOR DOCTORS

Hands using sign language spell A, S, L.
A-S-L, The hands spell the abbreviation for American Sign Language, a tool that enable doctors to communicate with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community in one of their languages.

According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dr. Deborah Gilboa is “one of the few doctors in the nation who is fluent in American Sign Language.”

While completing prerequisites for medical school, Galboa became a certified ASL interpreter.

Pencil eraser over notebook paper with pieces of the eraser on the paper.
Many people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing wish doctors would erase communicating with them using pencil and paper and begin using sign language or having interpreters. Photo credit: Hometown Beauty via photopin (license)

“People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are said to be one of most under-served disability populations in terms of health care. Lack of sign language interpretation is the most frequent subject of Department of Justice cases regarding compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act in health care settings, according to the website ada.gov,” according to the article.

Dr. Galboa said doctors need to step up and meet the Deaf Community’s needs, “The deaf community puts up with uncertainty about their health care that leaves them poorer for it, and I don’t mean financially. As doctors, we want to know what’s really going on. The deaf community’s expectations of doctors is very low. We need to raise those expectations.”

FROM THERE TO WHERE?

How will societal attitudes limit future physicians with deafness or hearing loss? How many physicians will opt to learn ASL, or at least adopt methods of communication that are suitable for truly understanding procedures and conditions?

Have times changed?

COMMUNICATION ACCESS FOR MEDICAL STUDENTS OR PROFESSIONALS

  • Are you a person with deafness or hearing loss who wants to become a medical professional?
  • Do you want to provide communication access to medical students?
  • Are you a medical professional who needs more communication access?

Woman with unreal blue eyes and black hair and background, reads, Sign Shares, Interpreting Your WorldSign Shares, Inc. can help! We provide services for people with deafness, hearing loss, and deaf-blindness, as well as foreign language translation for people with hearing.

Request Services here!

 

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Adapting to Usher Syndrome and Deafblindness

Molly Watt is a young speaker, vlogger, and author who is Deaf-Blind and advocates for people who have Usher Syndrome, the condition she has. Watt has created an awareness video about the syndrome, as well as an open-captioned vlog about technology she uses daily to assist her with both hearing and vision loss that comes from having Usher Syndrome.

Young woman walks down street using a guide dog. Words at bottom of slide "and the worst case scenario for any deaf person is to lose their sight"
Molly Watt describes how Usher Syndrome is a worst case scenario for someone with hearing loss in one of her awareness videos. http://www.mollywatt.com/keynote-speaking

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Usher Syndrome is a genetic disease or disorder that affects both hearing and vision and is one of the leading causes of deaf-blindness.

Symptoms of the syndrome include:

  • deafness or hearing loss,
  • balance problems,
  • retinitis pigmentosa, which causes night-blindness, and
  • a loss of peripheral vision (side vision) through the progressive degeneration of the retina.
Screen shot from a video showing tunnel vision and the words Steps can be quite disorientating.
Molly Watt portrays the tunnel vision she has in an awareness video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq6rRQTIoqM

Retinitis pigmentosa eventually causes “tunnel vision,” where a person can only see straight ahead.

There are three types of Usher Syndrome, ranging from Type 1, where children are born profoundly deaf, have problems with balance, and eventually become legally blind, to Type 3, where children may have normal hearing at birth, and gradually lose hearing, vision, and balance.

Picture of cell phone with message that it's connecting to hearing devices. At the bottom fo the slide text asks how she hears music if she can't hear and the response is Hearing Aids-duh!
Watts wears hearing aids that she pairs with her cell phone. The direct connection between her cell phone and hearing aids provides better quality sound. She also pairs her hearing aids with a smart watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-yrqbaN1II

According to the institute, early diagnosis of Usher syndrome is important so parents can enroll their children in training programs to manage hearing and vision loss.

Frame from a vlog that shows a black guide dog and says "Occupation: guide dog for the blind my mobility aid."
Molly Watt’s vlogs often include her guide dog, which is a vital tool for her independence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-yrqbaN1II

Typically, treatment will include:

  • hearing aids,
  • assistive listening devices,
  • cochlear implants,
  • communication methods such as American Sign Language;
  • orientation and mobility training;
  • communication services; and
  • independent-living training that may include Braille instruction, low-vision services, or auditory training.

Sign language can be a vital tool for communication for people who have advanced Usher Syndrome, since people without hearing or sight may choose to communicate using Deaf-Blind Tactile with an interpreter. This process allows the person with deafblindness to feel the interpreter’s hands as they sign.

Sign Shares, Inc./International provides services for people who are Deaf-Blind, Deaf, and Hard of Hearing, as well as for people who are Foreign Language Hearing.

You may book an interpreter with Sign Shares using this link.

Download the fact sheet on Usher Syndrome at this link.

Learn more about Molly Watt and her mission to educate others about Usher Syndrome at http://www.mollywatt.com/.

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