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Prevention Research Center Partners with CDC on Seasonal Flu Videos in American Sign Language

Members of the Rochester Deaf community discuss health care during an NCDHR presentation.

Members of the Rochester Deaf community discuss health care during an NCDHR presentation.

During a health emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disseminates vital information through multiple media channels. For the half million to two million American Sign Language (ASL) users in the United States, interpreting important and sometimes complex health messages expressed in English can be difficult. Communicators must provide this health information to people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing in a culturally and linguistically appropriate form.

During the 2009 flu season, the CDC's Emergency Risk Communication Branch determined that videos in ASL were needed to help Deaf and hard-of-hearing people prevent the spread of seasonal flu. The branch turned to the University of Rochester Prevention Research Center (PRC) for its expertise in using ASL and for its close ties to a Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Community Ties

The University of Rochester PRC, also known as the National Center for Deaf Health Research (NCDHR), is a leader in understanding deaf health. The NCDHR is one of 37 PRCs across the country funded by the CDC to address health issues by working closely with underserved communities. The center's location in Rochester, New York, provides the opportunity to work with one of the largest Deaf populations in the United States—in part because of close proximity to the Rochester School for the Deaf, the Rochester Recreation Club for the Deaf, and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Ties with these organizations have enabled the NCDHR to conduct community-based research with partners comprising Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing people to address health disparities and to create effective health promotion strategies for Deaf populations.

Mindy Hopper, a Deaf doctoral student at the University of Rochester

Actress Mindy Hopper, a Deaf doctoral student at the University of Rochester, rehearses before filming begins.


Starting in December of 2009, two ASL videos were created through a close collaboration between the CDC, the PRC Program office, the NCDHR, and the Deaf Wellness Center (DWC), a department of the University of Rochester Medical Center. The CDC's Community Health Outreach and Education Section, a part of the Emergency Risk Communication Branch, worked with the NCDHR on original written content and feedback during video production. The DWC worked with the NCDHR to adapt scripts into ASL and to produce the videos. The flu videos are the 17th and 18th films produced by the DWC, which worked with the CDC to make six ASL videos in the past year on topics such as disaster preparation, asthma, and lead poisoning.

A Positive Direction

Each video tells a story, which allows Deaf people to become engaged with the content.

"Most Deaf people are visual learners…They gain knowledge when the information is conveyed in a shared, natural, and intelligible language," says Mindy Hopper, a Deaf doctoral student at the University of Rochester, who plays the nurse character in both films. "We benefit when a concept is presented in a real-life situation."

Actor Patrick Graybill, a member of the National Theatre of the Deaf

Actor Patrick Graybill is a member of the National Theatre of the Deaf and is part of the Translation Workgroup at the NCDHR.

One video contains flu prevention information for Deaf adults; the other informs Deaf parents about how to care for their children during flu season. In the videos, two characters discuss the flu virus and how to prevent its spread using strategies such as vaccination, covering coughs, and staying home when sick. The characters explain technical terms that may not be familiar to all Deaf audiences.

"The way the video is designed, Deaf viewers can capitalize on not only the textual information but the conceptual information," added Ms. Hopper. "The mood or tone of the message is critical for the viewers to understand the urgency of the situation."

Reflecting on the work, Ms. Hopper added, "The problem in the past is that society has been speaking for Deaf people rather than consulting and collaborating with us. This collaboration is taking us in a positive direction."

Access the flu videos in ASL.

Learn more about the NCDHR


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