Image Description: A picture of eight Deaf New Americans, four per row of Deaf New Americans, flanked by a white person on the far right. The back row of four Deaf New Americans are standing up, two men and two women, and the front row of four Deaf New Americans are seated, three women and one man. [This is Hopeprint’s picture, and we re-published their picture with their permission.]

At least 50 Deaf Nepali immigrants reside as New Americans in Syracuse, New York and they are speaking out against local hospitals and medical centers, particularly Upstate University Hospital, for not providing Nepalese Sign Language (NSL) interpreters. Some were given headphones instead of face-to-face or on-screen interpreting services, others were assigned ASL interpreters with no understanding of their language, and still others received VRI services that they were not familiar with—all of which were failures and left Deaf New Americans frustrated. All documentation or mail from the physician’s office or the hospital was in English as well, a written language they could not understand.

Shana Gibbs posted a video of five Deaf New Americans who expressed anguish with the lack of NSL access for their healthcare needs at Upstate: Surya Bahardi, Devi Karki, Abi Mager, Hsar Myint-Myint, and Shamanti. Surya recalled his experiences of being unable to care for his wife after her accident because the doctors’ instructions were not accessible in his native language. No other medical personnel at Upstate could provide him access either. Shamanti shared that Upstate only provided two hours of interpreting services for her husband’s “end of life” care and when he died, she was also given little to no information on what was going on and why he died. The stories in Gibbs’ posted video are just a few of the countless stories out there.

The Deaf New American community members assert their traumatic experiences could have easily been avoided had their only local Deaf NSL interpreter been allowed to be present for all walk-ins and appointments.

Hopeprint recently shared a press release to the Deaf New American Advocacy Center’s Facebook page, which provides additional context:

“This DNI (Deaf Nepali Interpreter) is the preferred interpreter requested by the Deaf New Americans in Syracuse. Using this DNI means they have complete access and clear understanding of their medical needs. However, for reasons unknown, this individual is no longer being allowed to provide this crucial interpretation service, and the Deaf New Americans want to know why. They want this individual utilized to give them their rightful and equitable access to their medical appointments.”

Upstate University Hospital (among other hospitals and medical centers) banned the interpreter because they believe she is not qualified, although the World Federation of the Deaf and Nepal has recognized her as an interpreter and she has worked with the Deaf New American community for years. Several local agencies, such as the Aurora of Central New York and Hopeprint, also have used her services in tandem with a hearing ASL interpreter for the provision of supportive services for the Deaf New American community, such as driver’s license tests, job placement, homeownership, and educational pursuits. 

According to a CNY Central article, the Deaf New American community has been in Syracuse for the past eight years and Upstate Hospital (and St. Joseph’s) has repeatedly refused to accommodate their requests for equal communication access.

Upstate Hospital provided the following statement to CNY Central: “Providing appropriate interpretation services for the Deaf New Americans who use Nepali Sign Language is important to Upstate and Upstate is committed to offering this service through a nationally certified interpreter.”

This past Sunday, there was a Deaf New American protest at Upstate’s parking lot. To stay updated on future planned actions, follow the Deaf New American Advocacy Center on Facebook.