Accompanying deaf people on their final journey

Together with Achdorf Hospital, Landshut University of Applied Sciences wants to improve palliative care for deaf people

In a world of hearing people, deaf people are frequently left on their own and often live their daily lives in social isolation. This isolation also extends to hospitals, which generally remain places that are not adapted to the specific needs of deaf people. In the case of an incurable serious illness, however, the only available treatment is frequently palliative care – care which alleviates the pain and symptoms, but is not able to prolong the patient’s life. This final stage in the deaf patient’s life remains a path of isolation: very few health and nursing professionals know sign language or have been trained in how to deal with deaf people.

It is here that palliative care continues to reach its limits today. Experience shows, however, that in this existentially-threatening stage of life in particular, apart from the medical care, communication and emotional support also play a major role for terminally ill people. With the goal of improving the basic palliative care provided to deaf people, the research project Deaf Pal – communication in the palliative care of deaf people is being launched at Landshut University of Applied Sciences under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Uta Benner and in close cooperation with Senior Physician Wolfgang Sandtner, the Medical Director of the palliative care unit at Landshut-Achdorf Hospital. The Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts is supporting the project with funding of 250,000 euros.

Providing and practicing inclusion

“With the Deaf Pal project, we are taking a big step so as to further improve the situation of deaf people and raise awareness about their inclusion in society,” explains Benner. Over several stages, a team from Landshut University of Applied Sciences will be working with Landshut-Achdorf Hospital to develop concepts for barrier-free palliative care. These include solutions for general educational work with deaf people and their relatives, proposals for an adapted technical infrastructure, and the training of the medical staff. “Specifically, our goal is to develop materials for deaf people and the staff team at the hospital, as well as a training module (primarily for medical and nursing staff),” says Benner, explaining the initial ideas.

The entitlement to physical and mental health

In socio-political terms, this project is very much of the moment. According to the UN Social Covenant, which is the international pact on economic, social and cultural rights, every individual has the right “to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. With its “Barrier-free Bavaria” and “Inclusion in Bavaria” programmes, the federal state of Bavaria is also committed to this important topic. In the field of medicine in particular, however, the hurdles for marginalised groups, such as deaf people, are even higher. These hurdles start with making an appointment by telephone or a verbal call in the waiting room, and extend to the doctor-patient consultation and, of course, the palliative care. For deaf people, it is almost impossible to rise to these challenges successfully without having sign language interpreters or relatives at hand. “And that is where our Deaf Pal project steps in. We want to work together to ensure that deaf people are also taken into account in the field of palliative care during their last journey in life, and that we improve their quality of life at this stage,” explains Sandtner.

A project with practical relevance

Landshut University of Applied Sciences offers the best conditions for carrying out this project. It is one of seven colleges and universities in Germany to offer a degree course in Sign Language Interpreting, and is the only place to do so in southern Germany. “With Mr. Sandtner, the Medical Director of the palliative care unit at Landshut-Achdorf Hospital, we have also found an ideal partner, as he has been working on the topic of inclusion in palliative care units since 2013. We are convinced that with our shared ideas and concepts we will be able to significantly improve the lives of deaf people receiving palliative care,” says Benner with enthusiasm.

About the project

The Deaf Pal – Communication in Palliative Care for Deaf People project is to run from January 2021 until December 2023. The project manager at Landshut University of Applied Sciences is Prof. Dr. Uta Benner, Professor for the Sign Language Interpreting course and Dean of the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies. Other members of the research team are Prof. Dr. Sabine Fries, an expert in the field of Deaf Studies, who is herself deaf, and Prof. Dr. Clemens Dannenbeck, an expert in Inclusion Research, Diversity and Disability Studies. The project partner is the palliative care unit at LAKUMED Hospital Landshut-Achdorf under the supervision of senior physician Wolfgang Sandtner.

The Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts is supporting this project with funding of 250,000 euros as part of the 6th round of funding of the Programme for Supporting Applied Research and Development at Universities of Applied Science and Technical Colleges, Structural Impulses for Research Access.

Photo: Landshut University of Applied Sciences

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