For over four decades, the Deaf Community Counseling Services (DCCS) has dedicated its mission to provide equitable access and the highest quality of mental health services to the Deaf, Hard of Hearing (HOH), and Deaf-Blind communities in San Francisco and Alameda Counties.
According to one study, between 15% and 26% of the population have hearing loss, and about 1 in every 20 Americans is deaf or hard-of-hearing. Struggles to function in a hearing world can lead to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. And in the coronavirus era, these issues may be exacerbated by mask-wearing, social isolation, and higher needs around communication assistance.
DCCS is proud to have maintained its ability to provide mental health services for its clients and adapt to health guidelines throughout the pandemic. Services include mental health assessment, therapy and substance abuse counseling, psychiatric and medication services for clients of all ages. DCCS also provides rehabilitation services and can forge school partnerships through Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS) to foster academic and social success for Deaf and HOH students. All this is possible due to partnerships with the City and County of San Francisco, the Department of Public Health (DPH), and Alameda County’s Behavioral Health Services (ACBHS).
Understanding Deaf Culture
While all DCCS staff are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), complete understanding and immersion in Deaf Culture is an important key to DCCS’s success.
Today, the program has two full-time Deaf staff and one Rehabilitation Specialist, serving about 40 clients. The Deaf and HOH population is growing rapidly, and mental health service providers face a higher demand for this special needs group. According to one study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Deaf individuals say they preferred a Deaf mental health provider.
DCCS Director Kimberly Cohn has nothing but praise for her staff, calling them an exceptional group of mental health professionals.
“It’s about possessing cultural competence and cultural humility within the Deaf community and arriving simultaneously with exceptional clinical skills. There’s no wiggle room for ‘on the job training’ in these areas. High levels of education and training are required for our staff to possess the clinical skills, intellectual and academic rigor needed to do this work. But there’s also the compassion piece; they have to be heartfelt and understand the needs of the client, and be able to integrate their clinical training with open-heartedness and the ability to serve in the most effective and appropriate ways.”
Educating the public is also crucial, and general perception and stereotypes about the Deaf community are shifting. The idea of deafness as a disability is a thing of the past. Today, the Deaf community identifies as a linguistic minority, complete with its own community of ASL users, with unique customs, norms, arts and culture. To help broaden public understanding, DCCS has been active in community outreach. Deaf clinician Sharon Haynes has been instrumental in maintaining the presence of DCCS not only within the Deaf community, but also coordinating DCCS staff and leadership to represent Felton in the larger landscape of specialty mental health services.
Innovation and Technology for the Deaf
Medical studies have found that deaf people suffer from mental health issues at about twice the general population rate. There is still much to done to meet the demand for accessible mental health services for the deaf.
DCCS Program Director Kimberly Cohn explains. “Typically, if a deaf person needs to access mental health services, they need an interpreter with them, which may cost more than $100 an hour. The truth is Deaf consumers often have to carry the additional burden of cost simply for access.” Passed in 1990, the ADA act facilitated access through language capacity though more needs to be done. ASL users still encounter difficulties finding qualified interpreters, and medical organizations face problems getting reimbursed for providing such services.
One development in the time of COVID19 was the transition to teleconferencing technology as a platform for TeleHealth services. While these platforms play to the adherent strength of the visual skills of the Deaf, the use of these technologies doesn’t come without some pitfalls. Poor wi-fi connections may “freeze” video – totally cutting off communication. Representatives from the Deaf-and-Hearing Loss communities are appealing to video conferencing services like Zoom to improve technology and make it easier for sign language users to communicate with each other and their colleagues of various hearing capacities.
The Road Ahead
Typically, DCCS operates out of three locations with offices in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Fremont. However, during Shelter-in-Place due to Covid19, all sessions will occur remotely until further notice. Staff is eager to return to in-person services as soon as it is recommended to do so.
In 2012, Felton took over the operation of the program (formally known as the UCSF Center on Deafness), expanding and innovating service to the Deaf and HOH communities that has spanned over 45 years. DCCS has changed with the times, navigating policy change and innovating and adapting new technologies, which has provided solutions for its deaf clients. Yet, some hurdles remain.
Felton Institute’s DCCS strongly advocates for equal access to mental health care and services for the Deaf and HOH populations, using cultural and linguistic affirmative approaches. The work requires challenging the more subtle forms of discrimination against Deaf or HOH individuals. For example, insurance paperwork, medical documents, and other requirements are written in and must be completed in English. An extra step requires that it must first be interpreted, translated, or transliterated into ASL to be accessible to the Deaf community for clarity and equitable access to services.
Al Gilbert, Felton Institute President and CEO, says these challenges simply provide more opportunity to innovate. “Serving the Deaf is just an opportunity for us to expand our ability to serve a different population. It is an opportunity to enhance our culture, exactly in the way we would like people who are considered minorities in this country to be incorporated into the workplace — treated as it is a valuable expansion of the asset base. We’ve been blessed to have leadership and a program that’s been extraordinary in achieving this goal.”
Plans for DCCS include hiring more staff to accommodate the Deaf and HOH clientele’ growing needs in the Bay Area. DCCS is dedicated to diversity and inclusivity, welcoming people from all backgrounds, races, cultures, genders, and sexual orientations.
Please reach out to Felton’s Deaf Community Counseling Services if you or someone you know needs support during these challenging times of COVID-19, by fax 415-447-9701. For more information, about Felton’s DCCS Program please visit the DCCS Program Page.
DCCS, At a Glance
- Psychiatry and Psychotropic Medication Management and Education
- Individual Therapy
- Therapy for Children and Adolescents
- Domestic Violence-related Issues
- Couples Therapy
- Family therapy
- Educationally-related Mental Health Services (ERMHS)
- Substance Abuse Education
- Mental Health Workshops
- Consultation, Collaboration, and Advocacy
- ERMHS (formally known as AB3632)
- Individual private insurance with prior authorization (please contact DCCS for more info.)
- Cat Riddley, Administrative Manager and ASL Interpreter, 8 years of service
- Mal May, Mental Health Rehabilitation Specialist, 7.5 years of service
- Jolene Mahoney-Beaver, Lead Clinical Case Manager, 4 years of service
- Sharon Haynes, Clinical Case Manager and Outreach Coordinator, 2.4 years of service
- Kimberly Cohn, DCCS Program Director, 3.5 months
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties.
Felton is named for its social services pioneer and executive director Dr. Katharine “Kitty” Felton who was called the ”conscience of San Francisco” and was committed to ensuring that children and families in crisis have access to social services and resources in order to help them build upon their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org