The Equalities Act 2010 gave the NHS opportunities to work towards eliminating discrimination and reducing inequalities in care. From 31st July 2016, all organisations providing NHS or adult social care will have to comply with the accessible information standard.
The aim of the standard is to make sure that people who have a disability, impairment or sensory loss get information that they can access and understand, and any communication support that they need.
This includes making sure that people get information in different formats if they need it, for example in large print, braille, easy read or via email.
It also includes appropriate support to help individuals communicate, for example, support from a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, deafblind manual interpreter or an advocate.
All organisations that provide NHS or adult social care are required to follow the new standard, including NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts, and GP practices.
Wendy Kay, works as a Policy and Research Officer for Healthwatch Wirral, but worked for over 5 years as a Communication Support Co-ordinator helping people who had a communication problem known as aphasia following a stroke. About a third of all stroke survivors have some difficulty with speaking or understanding what others say.
Communication problems can have many causes including hearing and visual impairments, dyslexia, dementia, learning disabilities as well as motor difficulties and voice problems.
Whatever the cause of the communication problem might be, one thing that unifies those with communication problems is their sense that interactions with others can be a frightening and frustrating experience. One thing that is frustrating to those who work with communication problems is that those interactions do not need to be so fraught. With some awareness training and basic bits of equipment those interactions can be effective and rewarding for everyone involved.
Some basic advice would be to
- Slow down when talking to people with a communication problem. It might seem obvious but if you are nervous about how to deal with people it is easy to find yourself speeding up and using jargon.
- You might find that if you position yourself so that you are facing the person they are more able to understand the context of what you are saying and that you see straight away from their facial expression if you are confusing them.
- Think about using gestures when you speak. It might not be recognised sign language but lots of people can understand better if speech is accompanied by some facial or hand movements. Think thumbs up for good and thumbs down for not so good.
- Have pen and paper available. The person may not read or write but, just like using gestures above, a drawing of a stick man or timescale can put a conversation into perspective for some people.
Healthwatch Wirral can offer a two hour Communication Access training course, designed to help people feel more confident and competent when working with people who have communication disabilities.
For more information on this course contact [email protected] or call 0151 230 8957.