Margot Moinester
Publication Date
September 1, 2008

Brandeis University, Harvard University

This research explores why individuals in the United States (US) who are Deaf  are disproportionately vulnerable to HIV infection. "An analysis of the social, political, and attitudinal environments surrounding people who are Deaf reveals numerous barriers that may hinder access to sexuality education and HIV prevention programs." [Capitalisation of the term Deaf is preferred in the article to designate this sociocultural group; thus, the editor has chosen to use it also.]

From the introduction: "...[T]his paper aims to employ a sociopolitical lens to explore why individuals within the Deaf community in the United States may be likely to incur HIV infection. Key social, environmental, and political forces that construct risk of HIV infection for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) are discussed. Methods of HIV/AIDS education and prevention, which are aligned with principles of universal design, are then offered."

The paper's perspective focuses on the intersections between individuals and the environment and "conceptualizes the attitudinal, social, political or built environment as responsible for many of the obstacles that people with disabilities confront in our society." Barriers to HIV/AIDS education and prevention for individuals who are Deaf include confidentiality in HIV testing and counseling, accessibility of educational materials, and dissemination of information.

Recommendations include the following:

  • "HIV/AIDS education materials and methods need to be designed in American Sign Language and should use visual tools such as pictures, videos, role-playing exercises and small group meetings conducted by peer educators who are Deaf. Moreover, because of the cultural cohesion of the Deaf community, all education materials should be developed in partnership with individuals who are Deaf. Materials should specifically include:
    • Pamphlets that provide written explanations along with visual images and ASL [American Sign language]-structured word phrases
    • ASL HIV videotapes with actors signing in addition to open captioning
    • Posters that include people who are shown signing to one another and that are specifically related to HIV/AIDS and Deafness.
  • Sexual and HIV/AIDS education programs should be introduced in all school-based-instruction for the Deaf, be it in mainstream or residential schools. This education should be designed to provide youth who are Deaf with accurate knowledge about safe sex practices and HIV/AIDS prevention. Additionally, such education should be designed with the goal of reducing sexual abuse of children who are Deaf.
  • The Deaf cultural grapevine needs to be utilized as a means to disseminate accurate information on HIV/AIDS and prevention as well as on available resources and potential advocacy channels. In conjunction, the public health system and political process need to become more accessible and welcoming of people who are Deaf.
  • Health care providers and community health clinics need to increase their knowledge base and resources to do HIV prevention with persons who are Deaf and hard of hearing. This includes learning more about the service needs of individuals who are Deaf as well as about available accommodations, such as interpreter services and assistive technologies. Funding for these services should be better addressed.
  • Substance abuse should be addressed in its own right within the Deaf community through school-based instruction for the Deaf as well as through small group meetings conducted by peer educators who are Deaf. Additionally, clean needles and knowledge of where to obtain them should be made easily available to people who are Deaf.
  • Confidential HIV testing coupled with psychological counseling by individuals fluent in American Sign Language needs to be made easily accessible to individuals who are Deaf."
HIV/AIDS and the Deaf Community

Disability Studies Quarterly Fall 2008, Volume 28, No.4, accessed on May 1 2013. Image credit: Disability Studies, Temple University blog site.