Meet Stephanie: Connecting to patients through sign language

December 4, 2018 

Did you know only 2 Pittsburgh physicians use American Sign Language?

That can be …

Stephanie signs "awkward" in American Sign Language. (It's one of her favorite ASL words.)


“We take it for granted, but being at the doctor’s is a very intimate experience. And to have a person in there interpreting for you really does take away from that.”

Stephanie hopes to connect with her future patients directly in American Sign Language, Spanish, and Spanish Sign Language.

She knows the importance of sign communication because she’s asked. When she surveyed a local Deaf school for her ACT Fellowship, the kids overwhelmingly shared that being with people who could communicate with them made them feel more accepted.

“You should see people's reaction when I start signing with them. They’re a bit surprised at first, and then they get really excited. Just that link of ‘I understand you’ is very important.”

Stephanie is fluent in ASL and Spanish, and she’s learning Spanish Sign Language immersively in Spain. She's there as a Fulbright Scholar, building on her previous research fellowship project that tested how clear and universal ASL translations of medical tests are.

“There's no universal sign language,” Stephanie said. “History, culture, and time really impacts sign language. A simple thing you would think is universal is very different just across the pond.”

For example, in American Sign Language, this is “hearing” and “deaf”:


In British Sign Language, the sign for deaf actually means hearing! Stephanie learned that the hard (but humorous) way when someone in England asked her if she was deaf.

She said she knows there’ll be more little language missteps along the way as she learns LSE — but that's all part of learning to communicate. 

Follow her journey in her blog »