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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / September 2023 / Roman to Adapt and Evaluate Total Worker Health Program for Sign Language Interpreters

Roman to Adapt and Evaluate Total Worker Health Program for Sign Language Interpreters

Gretchen Roman wearing a black suit, smiling, curly hair

Gretchen Roman

Assistant Professor

Maintaining sign language interpreter safety and health is key to providing communication access with the estimated 522,000 adults in the United States who have low hearing acuity and use sign language. By leveraging resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Gretchen Roman, PT, DPT, PhD, seeks to significantly improve the well-being of sign language interpreters, thereby maintaining access to their critical services and expertise. This effort builds off of Roman’s prior research as the recipient of the Population Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship through the UR CTSI in 2021. A NIOSH Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) is funding this current project.

Utilizing mixed methods and clinical efficacy trial design, the project will adapt and evaluate a previous Total Worker Health program to improve sign language interpreter well-being.

“If the intervention is successful, these aims will protect and promote the livelihood of interpreters and ensure the continued availability of communication access between Deaf and hearing communities,” Roman said.

Aim 1 of the project will incorporate virtual listening sessions with interpreters from across the United States and adapt a previous integrated Total Worker Health Program into a health protection and promotion program specific to the context of sign language interpreting. Aim 2 will evaluate the acceptability, feasibility, and appropriateness of the intervention, and Aim 3 will compare the well-being of interpreters in a health protection and promotion program with those in a general health program.

Roman’s prior work during the Population Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship demonstrated that 38% of sign language interpreters experienced mild to extremely severe depression, anxiety, or stress while on the job. Her findings also showed correlations between mental and physical health states, inspiring further research to holistically address interpreter occupational health.

“Completing the UR CTSI-funded fellowship at URMC helped me to establish local connections with researchers at a research-intensive institution and expanded my skills to include qualitative and mixed methods,” Roman said. “The fellowship also gave me a better understanding of the public health implications of these efforts; specifically, how maintaining the safety, health, and well-being of sign language interpreters is critical for reducing the communication barriers that have resulted in inequities for Deaf sign language users.”

During her fellowship, Roman received support, guidance, and mentorship from several researchers, including Reza Yousefi-Nooraie, PhD, MSc Vince Samar, PhD, Steven Barnett, MD, Deborah Ossip, PhD, and Michael McKee, MD, MPH. Paula Cupertino, PhD provided additional sources of funding to extend Roman’s postdoctoral training another year. Additional support was provided by the Center for Community Health and Prevention’s Mini-Grant and Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs’ Postdoctoral Travel Award for participant incentives, article processing fees, further training, and conference travel.

“In addition to the guidance from my mentoring team, I came to realize the true value in peer mentorship and the genuine offering of support for one another’s professional goals and aspirations,” Roman said. She credits Eric Anson, PT, PhD, Brian McGarry, PT, PhD, and Katy Eichinger, PT, DPT, PhD for sharing their experiences and offering advice.

Roman now serves on the TL1 Population Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship Application Review Committee and enjoys offering peer mentorship to current fellows.

“I would recommend the TL1 fellowship to other recent doctoral graduates who are interested in broadening their research skills and elevating their work to make a greater impact,” Roman said. “Although the expectations of the fellowship were high, the environment was supportive and conducive, allowing me to grow into a more independent investigator and fostering my readiness for a faculty role with a research emphasis.”

Roman looks forward to continuing to work with Reza Yousefi-Nooraie, PhD, MSc, as well as Cristina Demian, MD, MPH and Tanzy Love, PhD towards the short-term career development goals of dissemination and implementation science, occupational health, and advanced statistics in this three-year K01 award.


Michael Hazard | 9/19/2023

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