Research Highlights / Full Story

RIT's Deirdre Schlehofer, an assistant professor of American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting education at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is investigating perceptions of health practices among female deaf and hard-of-hearing students to better understand what students know and what they need to know.

"Few studies of deaf women and girls have focused on abuse, information about sexuality, and health literacy, as compared to studies of hearing women," notes Schlehofer. "Our research is assessing important needs, and will hopefully lead to future research into the health practices of the deaf community."

Schlehofer, who is deaf, conducted focus groups of female deaf and hard-of-hearing students using sign language in order to identify knowledge gaps that are caused by missed information due to the complexities of communicating between ASL and English. The four main knowledge areas that were identified are: general health knowledge, sexual health knowledge, substance use, and intimate partner violence.

Preliminary findings indicate that many deaf females encountered sudden weight gain and limitations regarding their lifestyle choices after entering college, despite their general understanding of good health. The team hopes to continue surveying operations to enhance results and provide deeper understanding of the data collected.

The initial findings were presented at the American Psychological Association's 2011 conference Inequity to Equity: Promoting the Health and Wellness of Women with Disabilities in Washington, DC.

The project was funded through a Boot Camp Seed Funding Grant awarded by RIT's Vice President for Research.

NTID Professor Deirdre Schlehofer, center, is conducting one of the first studies to assess health literacy among deaf women and girls. Along with student researchers Tristan Wright, left, and Jennifer Ritter, she presented preliminary study findings at a 2011 conference hosted by the American Psychological Association.