Two researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Institute for the Deaf are executing the first nationwide study on the level of reproductive health knowledge of women who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The research also will address concerns that deaf or hard of hearing women face barriers to “appropriate reproductive healthcare services and health information,” according to a news release from RIT/NTID.

Leading the effort: Dr. Tiffany Panko, director of the school’s Deaf Healthy Laboratory, and Corrine Occhino, director of the Multimodal Language lab in RIT’s Research Venter on Culture and Language.

They are using a survey that will aim to gather insight on the pregnancy experiences and reproductive healthcare use of women who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to RIT/NTID’s news release.

The research team also plans interviews to study how women who are deaf or hard of hearing “use American Sign Language in communicating their knowledge of and thoughts around reproductive health.”

Research indicates that women who are deaf or hard of hearing have an increased chance of experiencing unplanned pregnancy because of “inaccessible health resources, use of less effective methods of contraception and multiple sexual partners,” according to RIT.

An early 2020 study found that women who are deaf or hard of hearing are 67 percent more at-risk of unplanned pregnancy, according to the news release.

There currently are no published studies on deaf and hard-of-hearing women and pregnancy termination,” according to Panko in the RIT/NTID news release. “To date, little is known about their access to information regarding unintended pregnancy options or their experiences with counseling or care services.”

The researchers are conducting the interviews remotely so that the study’s sample will be diverse in terms of population density, education and access to care. With the interviews and survey, the Panko and Occhino will aim to identify patterns in the women’s responses.

“It is our hope that our findings will lead to the development of culturally and linguistically appropriate educational interventions for healthcare providers who care for deaf and hard-of-hearing women, health media content developers and deaf and hard-of-hearing community members to promote access to information and effective use of the reproductive healthcare system,” Panko said in the statement. 

Initial funding for the study was provided by RIT’s Scholarship Portfolio Development Initiative grants program. Further funding for the research is through a grant from the Society of Family Planning.