Seasonal Flu Videos in American Sign Language
During a health emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) disseminates vital information through multiple media channels. For
the half million to two million American Sign Language (ASL) users in the
United States, interpreting important and sometimes complex health messages
expressed in English can be difficult. Communicators must provide this
health information to people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing in a culturally
and linguistically appropriate form.
During the 2009 flu season, the CDC’s Emergency Risk Communication Branch
determined that videos in ASL were needed to help Deaf and hard-of-hearing
people prevent the spread of seasonal flu. The branch turned to the
University of Rochester Prevention Research Center (PRC) for its expertise
in using ASL and for its close ties to a Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
The University of Rochester PRC, also known as the National Center for Deaf
Health Research (NCDHR), is a leader in understanding deaf health. The NCDHR
is one of 37 PRCs across the country funded by the CDC to address health
issues by working closely with underserved communities. The center’s
location in Rochester, New York, provides the opportunity to work with one
of the largest Deaf populations in the United States—in part because of
close proximity to the Rochester School for the Deaf, the Rochester
Recreation Club for the Deaf, and the National Technical Institute for the
Deaf. Ties with these organizations have enabled the NCDHR to conduct
community-based research with partners comprising Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and
hearing people to address health disparities and to create effective health
promotion strategies for Deaf populations.
Starting in December of 2009, two ASL videos were created through a close
collaboration between the CDC, the PRC Program office, the NCDHR, and the
Deaf Wellness Center (DWC), a department of the University of Rochester
Medical Center. The CDC’s Community Health Outreach and Education Section, a
part of the Emergency Risk Communication Branch, worked with the NCDHR on
original written content and feedback during video production. The DWC
worked with the NCDHR to adapt scripts into ASL and to produce the videos.
The flu videos are the 17th and 18th films produced by the DWC, which worked
with the CDC to make six ASL videos in the past year on topics such as
disaster preparation, asthma, and lead poisoning.
A Positive Direction
Each video tells a story, which allows Deaf people to become engaged with
“Most Deaf people are visual learners…They gain knowledge when the
information is conveyed in a shared, natural, and intelligible language,”
says Mindy Hopper, a Deaf doctoral student at the University of Rochester,
who plays the nurse character in both films. “We benefit when a concept is
presented in a real-life situation.”
One video contains flu prevention information for Deaf adults; the other
informs Deaf parents about how to care for their children during flu season.
In the videos, two characters discuss the flu virus and how to prevent its
spread using strategies such as vaccination, covering coughs, and staying
home when sick. The characters explain technical terms that may not be
familiar to all Deaf audiences.
“The way the video is designed, Deaf viewers can capitalize on not only the
textual information but the conceptual information,” added Ms. Hopper. “The
mood or tone of the message is critical for the viewers to understand the
urgency of the situation.”
Reflecting on the work, Ms. Hopper added, “The problem in the past is that
society has been speaking for Deaf people rather than consulting and
collaborating with us. This collaboration is taking us in a positive
Access the flu videos in ASL.
Learn more about the Prevention Research Centers Program.
Learn more about the NCDHR.