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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / September 2019 / DEAF ROC: Building Collaborations between Deaf and Hearing Scientists

DEAF ROC: Building Collaborations between Deaf and Hearing Scientists

DEAF ROC participants mingle at the conferenceDeaf and hard-of-hearing scientists, who are under-represented in biomedical fields, face barriers when trying to build collaborations with hearing colleagues. In August, the second biennial Deaf-Engaged Academic Forum (DEAF) ROC conference explored ways to foster collaborations among Deaf and hearing scientists.  

The conference, hosted by the UR CTSI and Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID), drew 83 participants – both Deaf and hearing. Undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral trainees, as well as faculty and staff from across the county gathered at the University of Rochester Medical Center to brainstorm how to make academic and laboratory environments more inclusive.

Tyler Pugeda, aspiring Deaf physician-scientist at Johns Hopkins University, highlighted his takeaway from the conference, “…that people, either Deaf or hearing, always have the power to make a change, and that effective communication is a shared team responsibility.”

While society often puts the onus on Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals to bridge communication gaps, the conference elicited ideas for how hearing scientists can meet their Deaf and hard-of-hearing counterparts halfway. These can be as simple as adding a whiteboard to their lab space or modifying lab equipment to give visual rather than auditory signals. One Deaf doctoral student shared that her lab team is learning American Sign Language to better communicate with her.

At the same time, the conference highlighted ways that Deaf and hard-of-hearing scientists can - and have - advocated for themselves to enact change. The examples above didn’t happen on their own. They were set into motion when Deaf and hard-of-hearing scientists shared their experiences and needs with their hearing colleagues.

It’s that open exchange and willingness to understand each other’s points of view that will enable a more inclusive academic research environment. DEAF ROC aimed to open that dialogue and help attendees carry the conversation forward at their home institutions and labs.

View selected DEAF ROC key note presentations.

Read about the inaugural DEAF ROC conference.


The event was supported by the UR CTSI’s Rochester Postdoc Partnership program, which is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (K12 GM106997), as well as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and University of Rochester Special Opportunities Fund.

Michael Hazard | 9/19/2019

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