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Better educational materials are needed to boost the health literacy of individuals who are deaf

Research Activities, December 2009, No. 352

Even after achieving high education levels, people who are deaf do not necessarily have high health literacy levels, a new study finds. Steven Barnett, M.D., of the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and his colleague gave a modified version of a test that measures health literacy to 57 individuals who were deaf.

Participants were asked to read 66 health-related words, then circle the ones they understood and cross through those with which they were unfamiliar. More than 68 percent of participants understood more than 90 percent of the words on the test. However, although nearly 81 percent of participants had college degrees, almost a third scored below a ninth grade level on the test, indicating they had low health literacy. Words on the test are arranged by increasing difficulty.

Surprisingly, the words that participants found the most difficult were not necessarily at the test's end. Further, the authors suggest that participants were more likely to circle a word they did not actually understand than to cross through a word they did not comprehend, so the study's results may actually overestimate this group's health literacy. Individuals who are unable to read and comprehend health-related words in English are at risk for health disparities, the authors state. For this reason, health care professionals should develop better, accessible health education materials to correct this knowledge gap and prevent adverse health outcomes for individuals who are deaf.

This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS15700). See "Health-related vocabulary knowledge among deaf adults," by Robert Q. Pollard Jr., Ph.D., and Dr. Barnett in the May 2009 Rehabilitation Psychology 54(2), pp. 182-185.

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Current as of December 2009
Internet Citation: Better educational materials are needed to boost the health literacy of individuals who are deaf: Research Activities, December 2009, No. 352. December 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/dec09/1209RA11.html