How hospitals and paramedics can improve accessibility

Writer, educator and change maker, Viv provides some advice.


Being rushed to hospital in the early hours of the morning is daunting for anyone.

Imagine not having clear speech and leaving behind your device, or any helpful instructions.

This happened to me not long ago.

My name is Viv. I am 54 years old. I am a writer, a published poet, and an educator. I also have a severe physical disability, but manage to do most daily tasks with some assistance. I have unclear speech and because of that, I use an electronic communication device called an Allora to communicate.

Late one night I became extremely sick, to the point where an ambulance needed to be called.

This was my first time going to hospital unaccompanied and without my communication method; I wondered how I would be understood.

The paramedics and doctors were very thorough with their questioning and clinically did an excellent job trying to determine the cause of my illness. They ran all the tests, assessed and reviewed everything – my blood pressure, heart rate, scans and ultrasounds – however one vital thing they did not check was how I communicate!

When a doctor is trying to get to the root of the problem, it is critical that the patient is involved in the assessment process. Doctors are forever asking questions like “What did you do before you began to feel sick?” “How long have you been feeling this way?” and “How bad is the pain?” The only way to get these answers is by talking to the person lying in the bed.

When you have a communication difficulty, unfortunately it can be easy to become separated from your method of communication, essentially your “voice”, in the rush and scramble of a 2am dash to hospital. Often the device in the corner of the room is forgotten and the worst part is that the person with the communication difficulty – because of their communication difficulty, can’t remind the paramedic in a timely and easily understood way to grab it before you’re taken out of the room.

It is so important that hospitals and paramedics review their current procedures to make sure their first question is: “How does this person communicate?” This simple question not only ensures that person is empowered to communicate, but also enables the person to contribute to discussions about their own health and have a method to provide valuable insight and information about themselves and how they are feeling that can help the decision-making process.

I am excited to hear that a few hospitals and medical services in Victoria have been accredited with the Communication Access Symbol. I look forward to learning about larger hospitals and health organisations getting assessed. This way I can feel more confident, safe and assured that the next time I make an unplanned visit to hospital, I will be able to communicate effectively with the doctors, health professionals and staff to get the same quality of care that everyone else does.

If you would like further information about how your organisation may become communication accessible or accredited with the Communication Access Symbol, contact Scope’s CIRC at or 1300 472 673