Sunday, August 31, 2003

Alive & well

Delhi woman a dear friend of the deaf

Debra Kendrick

In 1972, a young mother with four children under the age of 7 saw an announcement that sparked her imagination, and promised the challenge she wanted. A course in American Sign Language was being offered at her church.

"The class was free and there was free child care," Betty Rosenberger recalls, "so I simply took advantage of an opportunity."

That young mother's decision to try something new gave an entirely new direction to her own life, as well as touching the lives of countless individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired. And, last month, it led to a surprise award presented to Rosenberger by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

"We first met Betty 16 years ago," said Lisa Simeone, OCR regional manager, who presented the award for "Exceptional Achievement in Civil Rights and Advocacy" to Rosenberger in Chicago. At that time, Rosenberger led a complaint against Cincinnati area hospitals.

The problem, came to her attention when, as an interpreter for Cincinnati Hearing Speech and Deaf Center, she learned of a deaf man who had been inaccurately diagnosed as having a mental disability.

The evaluation was conducted without an interpreter, as were the evaluations of several deaf people, who were wrongly diagnosed as having mental retardation or other mental disabilities.

Stressing that she has never been militant, believing that more can be accomplished in "nice ways," Rosenberger is proud, nonetheless, that the result of that 1987 investigation was that all hospitals were ordered into compliance with the law. Providing interpreters for deaf patients was recognized as a civil right not to be violated.

Her ongoing desire to find amicable solutions to problems involving the deaf community has led to many changes for the deaf community in Cincinnati. She helped establish a telephone relay service before one was provided by the state; established an annual health conference for deaf people (after seeing that a high number of young deaf people were dying of AIDS) and, several years ago, led a group of 60 people to then-Mayor Roxanne Qualls office when two deaf children died in a fire because there was no visual alarm.

"It was a very friendly meeting," Rosenberger is pleased to report. "The mother (who was also deaf) told her heart-wrenching story" and before long, a plan was in place to provide every home with a deaf resident with either a vibrating or flashing fire alarm.

But such examples of leadership and advocacy are only a small part of the reason this Delhi Township woman was singled out for recognition by the Department of Health and Human Services. Since 1990, she has served as full-time interpreter for deaf patients receiving treatment at University Hospital. If you are deaf and coming to University for surgery, Rosenberger will be there to facilitate the communication between you and the medical professionals. If you have routine radiation or chemotherapy or dialysis treatments, Rosenberger will be there - the trusted, competent human interface between deaf patient and hearing physician, nurse, or technician.

The acceptance and trust afforded her by deaf patients often puts her in the dual role of providing moral support along with ASL interpretation.

Yes, she explains, a deaf patient might bring a hearing family member or friend to the emergency room or outpatient procedure, but they will still always prefer the neutral, confidential services of a certified interpreter.

"You wouldn't want to report that you'd used crack," she cites as example, "with your child present, or talk about sexual exploits through a friend or relative."

But with an interpreter, deaf patients can disclose sensitive information directly to the health care professional, just as a hearing person would do.

As Simeone put it: "While some others are complaining about a sad event, while others are thinking that someone should do something, while others are resigned that nothing can be done, Betty Rosenberger has devised a plan and is on the move fighting the good fight and getting results."

In other words, University Hospital is lucky to have her. The deaf community is lucky to have her.

And the rest of us are lucky, too, to see her example of what one person can do.

Contact Debra Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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