It’s never fun having to go to the doctor but for some people, it can be really difficult too. Not having accessibility in mind when it comes to providing healthcare services or appointments can have long-term, lasting effects on people’s health.
If you are a GP, nurse, receptionist or anyone involved with healthcare then it’s vital to make sure that Deaf people can access the clinic. There are lots of things you can put in place to help D/deaf * people with their healthcare journey from booking to medication.
The legal bits: All providers of NHS or publicly funded adult social care services must meet the requirements of NHS England’s Accessible Information Standard. It sets out clear guidance on what you must do to make your information and communications accessible along with a complaints procedure to follow. Anyone providing healthcare services has a legal duty under the Equality Act (2010) to make reasonable adjustments so that services and appointments are accessible to D/deaf people.
Here are some of our helpful tips:
The first step for anyone is booking an appointment – which can often be easier said than done. Many clinics are now operating a phone call or turn-up in-person policy. This isn’t accessible for many people.
How to help: Could you look at other ways for D/deaf or disabled patients to book? This could be an online booking system, emails or SMS Texts. If you do install an online system, it’s worth having it audited to make sure that it is accessible and easy to use.
Ask don’t assume
When patients visit the clinic, ask about their access needs rather than assuming. If someone tells you that they have hearing loss or are Deaf then be conscious that they may not hear their name being called for their appointment.
How to help: Make a note of what someone’s access needs are so that you can help. Make sure that you follow through with this too – don’t forget about someone needing to be called or have things written down.
For safety reasons, a lot of reception desks now have a plastic partition. The glare from lights or windows can make it hard for people who lip-read to see. There may also be a lot of posters or information stuck to the plastic which may also make it difficult.
How to help: Remove posters for a start! Check how much glare is on the screen at different points during the day as it will change. Be mindful of the times that it is problematic to see through the screen clearly. If someone is struggling to see through the plastic then could you come out from behind the desk to communicate with them?
Many clinics use an intercom to announce calling someone by name for their appointment. This may cause a problem for Deaf patients who may miss their appointments. Visual displays that show a person’s name or emit a beep or sound can also be missed.
How to help: Ask if they would like someone to come and get them if their name is announced. If there is no intercom system, then can you let the healthcare professional know to come and get the person?
Ensuring that staff have had deaf awareness training can help. Interested in deaf awareness training? Visit our website to view the different options available.
Reassurance and communication
Emotions like anxiety and fear are often heightened when someone is at a health-related appointment. A little reassurance goes a long way, especially for disabled, D/deaf or neurodivergent people.
How to help: Tell someone what to expect so they aren’t surprised and know what is happening. Also, let someone know who will come to get them when it’s time for their appointments.
If it’s a physical appointment where you need to touch someone to test them, then ask and explain before you do so. Eye contact and instructions go a long way too. If a person has a personal assistant or a family member or friend with them for support – then address the person whose appointment it is. Turn to face the person who is D/deaf and maybe lip reading, speak clearly and don’t obstruct any lip movements.
If someone is A Deaf British Sign Language user (BSL) user and requires the use of a BSL interpreter you must provide this. Ensure that you have contact details for appropriate interpreting services. A first port of call would be to contact your local Integrated Care Board.
Printing or placing accessibility information prominently on your website can show Deaf patients what is in place. Publishing an accessible information policy in different formats can put people at ease before they visit.
Allow extra time for appointments
Don’t rush someone through an appointment and allow for extra time. It may take someone a bit longer to describe their symptoms or communicate how they are feeling. Be patient, and friendly with extra time to facilitate effective communication.
If you have a D/deaf patient who needs to get changed behind a screen then give them enough time to do so. They may not hear you calling their name or asking, ‘are you ready.’ Don’t assume someone is ready for the curtain to be moved.
How to help: Let them know ahead of time that you are going to give them a signal before you move the curtain. Also, with intimate tests like smears, this is so important. Communicate what will happen before you do it – don’t just move the person. Agree on a signal or a tap to let people know when it is going to happen.
Masks are now common in all areas of healthcare including reception desks. No one can lip-read through a mask!
How to help: Check if you are in a position to lower your masks and take a step back to allow safe communication. If you need to wear a mask during procedures explain what will happen beforehand without your mask on.
Medication and health details
Medication or health condition names can be a bit of a nightmare thanks to how complicated and long they are. If you are instructing someone on what to take, when and how much then make the instructions clear.
How to help: Writing the names of different medications and the frequency that which someone is expected to take them can be a big help. Give clear instructions and don’t rely on someone to lip-read a complex name. Similarly, don’t rely on a friend or family member who is not medically trained to be able to interpret complex medical information.
Quieter rooms for appointments
If there is a lot of background noise, busy bays or people rushing around then D/deaf people may find it tricky to understand what you are saying.
How to help: Can you move someone to a quieter room?
Interested in what you can do to make your health organisation or business more accessible for Deaf people? We offer a range of training that can be catered to your needs. Visit our website for more details.
* We use D/deaf to mean anyone with any level of deafness and to include everyone whether they are culturally Deaf BSL users or not.