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Like the majority of people with disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing people are frequently denied access to the important information about reproductive and sexual health, especially AIDS. Their needs are mostly neglected, and traditional programs do not adapt to the needs of this group. Consequently, people with hearing problems become defenseless before the transmission of HIV. For many of them, the sign language serves as the major language of communication. However, there are practically no materials and brochures about HIV/AIDS, written in the graphic sign language. Moreover, such a fact this language has no words to denote HIV and AIDS aggravates the situation. This makes it difficult to study for young people. At the same time, many adolescents with hearing problems do not know by ear a cultural sign language that covers particular intimate questions. In such a way, all these factors deteriorate the situation, associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS in the deaf community. Therefore, it is highly important to launch programs that would fight for the reforms leading to the prevention of drug abuse, sexual violence, and HIV/AIDS among deaf people.
Many deaf people reside in the United States of America. Specifically, more than 30 million Americans are deaf (Leigh, Andrews, & Harris, 2017). At the same time, AIDS is a rather serious problem in the deaf community. In the United States, according to different estimates, from 7,000 to 30,000 deaf people live with HIV (Leigh et al., 2017). Nonetheless, epidemiological services do not collect information on deafness and HIV/AIDS (Leigh et al., 2017). Therefore, the exact figures remain unknown. For the first time, information on hearing problems was included in the standard forms for testing and counseling for HIV in Maryland, USA. Thus, apparently, about 3% of deaf people in the state are HIV-positive (Leigh et al., 2017). However, they withheld this information to avoid being subjected to discrimination or they simply were not aware of their illness.
Drug abuse is highly common in the community of deaf people. Studies conducted in the United States suggest that one out of seven deaf people took drugs (Leigh et al., 2017). However, this figure is one out of 10 among the general population (Leigh et al., 2017). Drug use often results in the inability to think sensibly, which is usually connected with dangerous sexual behavior (Gertz & Boudreault, 2015). Further, the drug use with non-sterile injecting equipment is another important risk factor. Schools for children with hearing impairment offer no classes regarding HIV and sexual education. Existing HIV education programs for adolescents are usually not adapted for the deaf audience (Gertz & Boudreault, 2015). Therefore, deaf people, particularly adolescents, are often less aware of the risk of HIV prevention. transmission, and treatment of the HIV infection. The lack of information about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is enhanced by the absence of dictionaries, with the help of which deaf adolescents and children can speak on these topics with adults (Gertz & Boudreault, 2015). A research by Gertz and Boudreault (2015) shows that in the upper grades, deaf teenagers have an extremely low level of knowledge about AIDS. Schoolchildren are able to answer only 8 out of 35 questions about this dangerous disease (Gertz & Boudreault, 2015). This is an extremely low result, so such an ignorance on a problem of HIV/AIDS serves as another risk factor for deaf people.
Deaf men who have sex with men are in an especially complicated situation. They face rejection and discrimination both in the gay community and in the community of deaf people. Consequently, they may not recognize themselves as homosexuals; thus, they practice casual, risky, and anonymous sex (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Many of such men also experience great difficulties in communication with hearing partners, including topics about safe sex (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Thus, this is another risk group in the deaf community.
Children with disabilities, including deaf ones, are especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse that can happen both in boarding schools and at home. According to data of the research, 54% of deaf boys reported sexual harassment and only 10% reported such cases among the boys without hearing problems (Leigh et al., 2017). About 50% of deaf girls reported sexual abuse in comparison with 25% of hearing ones (Leigh et al., 2017). Sexual abuse traumatizes the psyche of children. In addition, such crimes experienced in childhood can result in the drug use and other risky behavior in adulthood.
Millions of people around the world are either deaf or they have hearing problems. Every tenth person has a certain degree of hearing loss. Despite this fact, hard of hearing and deaf people experience discrimination, numerous social prejudices, and lack of equality in the spheres of education and work. Today, people with hearing problems often face discrimination in healthcare, and access to social and medical services is frequently limited for them (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Still, there is no reliable information on the relation between AIDS and deafness (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). There are also no specialized services for the treatment and prevention of AIDS.
As noted above, the sign language is considered the main one for the majority of deaf people. This language has its syntax and grammar (Mathur & Napoli, 2011). Moreover, it is intended for face-to-face conversations. There are not many materials about HIV/AIDS, written specifically with the help of the graphic sign language (Mathur & Napoli, 2011). Despite the fact that deaf people can read materials about the prevention of HIV, they are rather ineffective for those who do not know the usual written language.
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In general, the sign language is intended to convey holistic concepts. Therefore, a person with limited communication skills, which includes lack of knowledge of this sign language, may not understand many phrases and idioms (Mathur & Napoli, 2011). In addition, there is no word ‘AIDS’ in the sign language, and the word ‘HIV-positive’ sounds meaningless because ‘positive’ is referred to something good (Mathur & Napoli, 2011). Moreover, the translators of the sign language cannot translate topics on HIV/AIDS without special training. At the same time, they may not be willing to translate the conversations about the issues of drug use and sexuality sincerely and openly. This leads to the problem that deaf people do not have enough materials to be acquainted with the questions on HIV/AIDS.
The community of deaf people is extremely united with mutual support and communication. Nevertheless, it is difficult to keep a secret in this community, but the issues connected with HIV require strict confidentiality (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Many deaf people will prefer risking confronting problems and misunderstandings in the ordinary service than inviting an interpreter or turning to a specialized service for the deaf, where someone can recognize them (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Even in the anonymous test room, they cannot maintain confidentiality because a person with hearing problems will need an interpreter to find test results or make a phone call.
A better realization of the strengths and characteristics of the deaf community can help create efficient prevention programs. In such a strong community, emotional and physical intimacy is frequent there. A visual characteristic of the sign language requires an open discussion of the issues of drug use and sexuality (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Deaf people should pay more attention to the discussion of these topics to protect their health. For the organizations for deaf people, it is extremely necessary to start addressing issues and topics that are traditionally considered taboo and suppressed (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Moreover, AIDS service organizations need to learn how to develop a cooperation with them as many schools for deaf children refuse to participate in the education programs for AIDS.
Currently, there is an acute worldwide problem of lack of adequate HIV prevention programs among deaf people. Many data indicate that this social group has an increased vulnerability in terms of obtaining information about HIV/AIDS (Biggs, 2012). Despite this fact, state organizations still pay little attention to this problem. The issue is also aggravated by the fact that there is still no reliable statistics on the relationship between AIDS and deafness as well as by the fact that public organizations are frequently reluctant to cooperate with organizations, dealing with the problem of AIDS (Biggs, 2012). One of the most significant sides of this issue lies in the shortage of adapted programs for HIV/AIDS prevention among deaf people.
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The most important preventative measure is providing necessary information. Thus, brochures for deaf people about reproductive and sexual development, including the period of sexual maturation and various methods of the protection from HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections, have been written recently (Biggs, 2012). In addition, the deaf community has participated in the creation of these brochures (Biggs, 2012). This means that this material is perfectly adapted for hard of hearing and deaf people. Textual information is not always available among them, as lengthy texts in booklets seem tiresome to read which repulses the deaf from reading them. Practically in every country, there are communities that are engaged in the promotion of a healthy lifestyle as well as the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses among the vulnerable groups of people. For example, these people include drug addicts and prostitutes (Biggs, 2012). People with hearing problems are also at risk because they are frequently less informed about AIDS. People without such issues have more possibilities to learn such vital information from text materials or on radio and television. However, it is difficult for deaf people to receive access to information, and they need to do more to get the right information (Biggs, 2012). For this reason, such people need special educational materials similar to these brochures.
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In addition to the publication of the brochures for the deaf, other programs are needed. Thus, today, there exist learning programs for work with deaf people in several countries around the world. For example, regular HIV/AIDS education is provided for mental health professionals working with deaf people (Biggs, 2012). Within their training programs, special visual materials for the deaf community are developed such as drawings, videos, group exercises, and the models of HIV development. In Paris, the AIDS Prevention Alliance offers various programs for deaf teenagers both in schools for the deaf and outside them (Biggs, 2012). Young deaf trainers visit schools and provide information on prevention, written in the sign language (Biggs, 2012). This program applies numerous visual materials that rebut various myths about HIV (Biggs, 2012). The program also has an HIV testing room, where medical staff speaks the sign language. Moreover, when the similar room was opened in the regular hospital, it had an even greater success.
At the same time, in different countries, several treatment and educational programs deal with the deaf. For example, the Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Hard of Hearing and Deaf People affords the treatment for dependence on drugs and alcohol for deaf people from Canada and the United States (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). People, who participate in this program, are trained in both drug dependence and deafness issues. Furthermore, various treatment approaches have been developed to address the problem of communication. The program also offers training for professionals working with the deaf (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Their resource center gives materials on addiction and helps find an interpreter to attend the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Anonymous Drug Addicts (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). This help can reduce the spread of HIV among deaf people.
In addition to public organization, the deaf community tries to organize various prevention programs, aimed at informing people about the danger of HIV/AIDS. A Center for Deaf Gays and Lesbians started its project to distribute videos in the American Sign Language (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). The major purpose of the films is to inform deaf people about drug abuse and the prevention of HIV. Even though the US Disability Act guarantees deaf people a full access to all necessary services, there are practically no materials on HIV prevention for them (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Moreover, little money is allocated to pay for the services of the interpreters of the sign language when there is a need to communicate about AIDS-related issues (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Many people do not realize that the American Sign Language is extremely different from English since it is not a copy of English in gestures but rather a very different language. Thus, the language barrier has isolated deaf gays and lesbians from HIV information from the very beginning of the epidemic (Leigh & Andrews, 2016) even despite the fact that information about the virus constantly changes. These days, American deaf gays and lesbians also receive little information about methamphetamine, but the abuse of this drug has turned into an epidemic in the USA. In such a way, the deaf community has decided that it is necessary to provide information on HIV and drugs to such people in their language. Thus, the members of the American deaf community directed films on the sign language that would help people learn more information about HIV/AIDS (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). For the majority of deaf people, English is the second language, but the sign language is their native.
HIV prevention programs, intended for the deaf community, should possess clarity and great visibility. They should not contain only dry lectures but also discussions, physical activity, group games, video materials, and visual aids. It is highly necessary to maximize the application of modern technologies such as the Internet and interactive videos (Leigh & Andrews, 2016). Although the deaf community makes certain attempts to provide education on HIV/AIDS, they are still not enough. Epidemiological services do not treat deaf people as a target audience, but the features of the epidemic among them must be considered. When people gather information about the spread of HIV, they should also consider people with hearing problems and other disabilities. New programs are needed to dispel the myths and increase the knowledge about HIV transmission among deaf people. Despite the fact that there such programs are not numerous in the world, their experience should be adapted and assessed in every region.
HIV/AIDS spreads among all layers of population, including people with hearing impairments such as deaf and hard of hearing people. At the same time, they are in many respects restricted in obtaining knowledge about HIV infection since it is frequently distributed in lectures, conversations, and the mass media only in audio form. Therefore, AIDS preventative measures among the deaf are extremely important. The deaf community needs modern education not only on HIV/AIDS but also on drug abuse and sexual health. Schools for the deaf should provide education on drug addiction and sexuality. They should also support children and adolescents who are exposed to abuse and violence. Programs for deaf people should consider the specifics of the community. These measures can reduce the number of deaf people with AIDS.