Health-related vocabulary knowledge among deaf adults

Rehabil Psychol. 2009 May;54(2):182-5. doi: 10.1037/a0015771.


Background: Many deaf individuals are at increased risk for fund-of-information deficits, including deficits in health-related information. Research on health information knowledge, an aspect of health literacy, demonstrates an association between low health literacy and health disparities in many populations. Deaf individuals are at particular risk for low health literacy, but no research has been conducted on this topic.

Objective: To investigate health-related vocabulary knowledge in a sample of deaf adults.

Measure: A task based on the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM).

Participants: Fifty-seven deaf adults reported whether they did or did not comprehend 66 health-related terms from the REALM. Of the participants, 81% possessed a college degree.

Results: Thirty-two percent of the deaf participants earned scores on the modified REALM task comparable to REALM scores considered indicative of low health literacy. The pattern of words that were least commonly and most commonly understood differed from normative expectations of hearing REALM respondents.

Conclusions: This highly educated deaf participant sample demonstrated risk for low health literacy. The general deaf population is likely at even higher risk for health problems associated with low health literacy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Comprehension*
  • Deafness / psychology*
  • Deafness / rehabilitation*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Reading*
  • Sign Language
  • Vocabulary*
  • Young Adult