Going to the dentist can be an unpleasant experience for anyone, but for people who are deafblind, these discomforts are worsened when dentists are unsure how to act around patients with disabilities.
It doesn’t have to be this way, according to Jaimi Lard, Perkins School for the Blind’s diversity and inclusion speaker. In fact, there are a number of simple steps dentists everywhere can take to make their practices more accommodating to people who can’t see or hear what’s happening in the dental chair.
Last week, Lard, who was born deaf and with severely limited vision, visited Tufts University School of Dental Medicine to share healthcare tips with more than 60 students and faculty members.
“We want to help bring you to a new comfort level,” Lard told the audience, using tactile sign language to communicate her message through her interpreter, Christine Dwyer. “We’re here to help you help others.”
Throughout her talk, Lard regaled the audience with personal stories, touched on important healthcare provisions within the Americans with Disabilities Act and taught students relevant signs to use in their careers, like the sign for “water” and “dentist.”
She also outlined a set of specific actions dentists can take to adapt to the needs of patients who are deafblind. “EASE,” which stands for “explain, ask, show, execute,” is a simple step-by-step guide to help dentists better treat patients who have sensory loss and use interpreters, said Lard.
“Explain what you’re going to do, ask if they need clarification and then show them. Let them touch the equipment, that’s how they’re going to see it,” said Lard. Next “Allow the interpreter time to give that information. Make sure that everything is clear. And then execute.”
Following the steps may take a bit more time, but it will yield a better experience for both patient and doctor, she said.
“Have patience with your patient, that’s the most important thing,” she reminded the audience.
A prolific public speaker, Lard has brought her message of inclusion to a wide array of forums, including schools, airports and the TEDxBeaconStreet stage. She was invited to Tufts by the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (AADMD), a healthcare organization that aims to improve the quality of care for people with neurodevelopmental disorders and intellectual disabilities.
“One of the biggest things is just breaking down the wall that might be there when working with patients with different needs,” said Vendita Correia, a Tufts student and member of AADMD. “This has been a great experience to start breaking down that wall.”
Before Lard’s presentation, many Tufts students had never met someone who is deafblind, including Holly Fadie, who said meeting Lard gave her new perspective as a future doctor.
“I liked how open and honest she was about living with a disability,” Fadie said. “A lot of healthcare providers need to learn to be a little bit more compassionate and understanding, not just in dental care, but in general.”