“They must understand we are people”: Pregnancy and maternity service use among signing Deaf women in Cape Town

Margaret W. Gichane, MSPH, Marion Heap, PhD, Mayara Fontes, MA, Leslie London, MD.

Disability and Health JournalVol. 10Issue 3p434–439
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2017.03.016



Women with disabilities are at disproportionate risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes, however, there is limited information on their pregnancy histories. This mixed-methods study focuses on signing Deaf women whose access to health care may be compromised by language barriers related to their disability.


To describe and compare the pregnancy outcomes and maternity service use of a sample of signing Deaf women of child-bearing age in Cape Town to the population of the Western Cape of South Africa.


We interviewed 42 Deaf women selected by non-probability snowball sampling, using a structured questionnaire in South African Sign Language in Cape Town in July 2016.


Average parity of the sample was similar to that of the Western Cape population. Most women had one or two children (74%). Thirty-one percent of women had experienced a miscarriage and 19% had terminated a pregnancy. Almost all women (96%) attended at least one antenatal appointment during their pregnancies, and all deliveries occurred at a health facility. Women primarily relied on writing to communicate during antenatal visits and labor/delivery. The majority of women reported communication issues due to limited interpretation services, and some reported experiencing mistreatment from hospital staff.


This study provides novel information on the pregnancy histories of Deaf women. While maternal service usage was high, the quality of services were inadequate with reports of linguistic barriers and mistreatment. Findings suggest the need to improve maternity care for Deaf women through implementing interpretation services and providing sensitivity training to health care providers.