Finding a Common Language

Guest post by Michelle Wall, OTR, DOR


Every day presents new challenges and adventures, but nothing that the rehab team can’t handle! When it comes to providing patient-centered care, meeting a patient’s unique needs sometimes can involve overcoming language or communication barriers. Our team has become proficient in using technology to our advantage in translating our instructions from English to different languages, including Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and Chinese. This month, we were presented with a new challenge when a short term patient was admitted from the hospital relying on sign language to communicate. In working with the geriatric population, we become accustomed to working with people who have hearing deficits, but it wasn’t until meeting this patient who has been completely deaf since birth that we realized that we needed more resources to understand and use sign language.

Our rehab team took the initiative to learn some basic signs and find resources to share with this patient and the rest of the interdisciplinary team. The patient’s wife, who is also deaf herself, was able to provide assistance in this plan. A searchable dictionary, like the one found at, was crucial in being able to find specific signs for the words that we were using with him. These words and phrases included “how are you?”, “where is your pain?”, and “let’s go for a walk.”

Being able to communicate with our patients is crucial in being able to meet their needs and build a trusting relationship to promote progress in their therapy. It is a huge reward for the rehab team, especially in this case, to be able to understand our patient and ensure that his needs are understood throughout his rehab stay in the facility.



  1. Roxie Jackson on September 30, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    Language barriers do exist in the world of rehab but forgot about the language barrier of the deaf clients. Thank you for the article.

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