Program helps makes hospice more accessible to users of American Sign Language

by Eric A Thomas

For many people living with a serious illness, making end-of-life care choices and wishes known is important. One option, known as hospice care, has brought many peace, comfort and dignity by giving a person the chance to die at home. Now, one segment of the population may find it easier to choose this option.

The local deaf population, since 2015, has been working to establish ASL Hospice for deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind patients with collaboration of hospice providers. The program was established in 2017. Recently, the Jacksonville Community Center for the Deaf (JCCD) teamed up with Jacksonville Area Center for Independent Living (JACIL) Deaf Services Advocate Sarah Wilson to formulate training and further implementation of this program. The program will be called ASL CARES, with CARES being an acronym for Culture Advocacy Respect Empathy and Support.

“The program will provide comfort and quality of life to this targeted portion of our population,” comments Wilson. “We will do this through care, support, service, companionship, and full access to ASL communications.” It is important to the organizers of this program that the deaf culture and the use of ASL, American Sign Language, as a primary language be included in providing compassion, respect and dignity for end-of-life care.

With the framework for ASL CARES in place, they have set out looking for more deaf volunteers to be trained and implement the program. The training will focus on a variety of components. These will include managing end-of-life, roles of a deaf volunteer, self-care of deaf volunteers, usage of ASL communication, handling ethics, importance of spirituality for the patient and family involved in the program and physical care of the deaf hospice patient. The program organizers are currently collaborating with hospice volunteers to review all the training curriculum. Upcoming training will be scheduled.

“We are pleased to team up with JCCD to provide this valuable resource to the deaf population,” concludes Peggy Davidsmeyer, JACIL executive director. “The program organizers have worked really hard to put this together despite all we have gone through with COVID since the pandemic hit.” The developers for this special program have been Wilson, Davidsmeyer, Brandie Belford, Deloris Summers (representing JCCD), Paul Pyers and Paula Chance. Even though this program will be volunteer based, the group is accepting donations to defray some of the expenses such as brochures and interpreters. Donation checks can be earmarked to JACIL c/o ASL CARES and they can be sent to: JACIL, 15 Permac Road, Jacksonville, IL 62650. All donations are tax-exempt.

To inquire further about ASL CARES, you are encouraged to contact Sarah Wilson at JACIL at 217-245-8371 (voice), 217-408-2668 (video) or (email). Or reach Deloris Summers of JCCD, located at 907 W. Superior Ave. at 217-245-0429 (voice), 217-408-0203 (video) or (email).

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