Study: How do deaf adults use online health info

RIT researcher investigates trends in deaf adults’ online health information usage

Poorna Kushalnagar

A Rochester Institute of Technology researcher is investigating how deaf adults, proficient in American Sign Language, use the Internet for health-related information.

Access to health communication has expanded during the last decade, providing the public with more articles, illustrations and health videos than ever before, said Poorna Kushalnagar, health psychologist and research associate professor in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science and director of the Deaf Health and Communication and Quality of Life Center.

“Changes in the health communication environment over time appear to influence the way individuals and general populations engage in their health and health care,” Kushalnagar said. “We want to know whether the trends are similar for deaf individuals who use American Sign Language.”

Kushalnagar won a $438,104 grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the three-year study and create a biennial Health Information National Trends Survey for ASL users. The HINTS program collects data about trends in health communication, and how the American public perceives cancer risks and seeks cancer-related information. HINTS was developed by the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

“We will use the data to improve the way health information is disseminated to the deaf community,” Kushalnagar said. “Some people might need training on using the Internet to access deaf-friendly health websites. Other people might benefit from workshops on how to use health information on the Internet.”

Questions cover Internet use, patient-physician communication, cancer health and perception and health status. Kushalnagar’s team has been translated into videos with a native ASL user and adapted for deaf individuals who use accessible technology and services. The survey, conducted online, will remain open until early 2018. Interested participants should go to

“My research team at RIT includes research coordinators and several undergraduate research assistants from software engineering, psychology and criminal justice programs,” Kushalnagar said. “My team also includes four deaf interviewers who go out in the deaf community throughout the United Sates and recruit hard-to-reach individuals, such as those who live in small towns or areas that are medically less accessible.”

Consultants on the HINTS-ASL project include Georgia Sadler, professor of surgery at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and associate director for Community Outreach at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center; Raylene Paludneviciene, professor of psychology at Gallaudet University; and Lauren Searls, registered nurse at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Wilmot Cancer Institute.

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