Program improves accessibility for deaf community

An Australian-first training program designed to enable a more accessible and inclusive health care for the deaf and hard of hearing communities is being rolled out at the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN).

The online staff training program, designed in partnership with Deaf Connect (formerly known as Deaf Can:Do ), aims to develop cultural awareness of the deaf community among CALHN staff and address any barriers they may face when accessing health care.

For many deaf and hard of hearing people, English can be a second language, especially if they use a signed language like Auslan (Australian sign language).

Communication is critical to ensure health care can be delivered appropriately, particularly when discussing treatment options, procedures and medications.

Staff collaboration

Luisa (pictured), a nurse at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Emergency Department, has been learning Auslan for 7 years and was among CALHN staff involved in the project’s development.

She was prompted to learn Auslan, which has its own grammar and vocabulary and does not follow English sentence structure, after caring for a deaf palliative care patient during her training.

Luisa believes the program was a valuable tool for staff to better understand the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community and improve access to care for a vulnerable consumer group.

“When communicating with the deaf community it was critical to quickly ascertain the individual’s preferred communication method,” she says.

This may involve booking an Auslan interpreter, or using a mix of visual aids, lip reading, gesturing or written notes.

“We should work with the patient or consumer to find a preferred method of communication while waiting for a professional interpreter to arrive.”

“And it is important to remember just because the last person you cared for preferred to communicate in a certain way, you cannot assume it is the same for everyone.”

Tips for communicating with the deaf community

She said staff and the community should be mindful of the following tips when communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Treat every deaf person like you would want to be treated.
  • Ask the individual for their preferred communication method.
  • Face towards individual to communicate.
  • Use a combination of visual aids, lip reading, gesturing and written notes.
  • Book an Auslan interpreter if required.

Consumer partnering

The training program emerged out of CALHN’s Community Connector forums, which bring together consumers, staff, and community organisations to create positive system improvements.

The CALHN Consumer Partnering and Community Engagement team hosts the forums to better meet the needs of the network’s diverse consumers and improve their health care experience.

The partnership with Deaf Connect has also led to development of video in Auslan explaining how deaf consumers can provide feedback.

CALHN Acting Executive Director Allied Health, Anna McClure, said the partnership aimed to educate staff and provide practical advice for clinicians when delivering care for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

“All patients have the right to make decisions regarding their own health and this training provides our teams with a tool kit to better communicate and understand the needs of its patients who are deaf or hard of hearing,” she said.