Six ideas for a more accessible hospital system

Wisdom shared by Viv Ortolan

Recently, I was rushed to hospital and didn’t have my communication device with me. The paramedics and doctors were clinically thorough, but one vital thing they forgot to check was how I communicate!

The experience made me think about how hospitals and paramedics can become more accessible for patients who have little or no speech.

Here are my top recommendations:

1. Get the Communication Access Symbol

As soon as I see this symbol, I know staff have received training on how to communicate with people who have communication difficulties, and will be respectful and take the time to allow me to get my message across.

Communication Access Symbol

2. Review standard case history protocol

Review standard case history protocol to ensure paramedics and medical professionals ask the individual how they say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and also how they communicate to clarify the appropriate strategies and individual uses.

Case History Form

3.  Invest in training

Medical professionals need extra education and training on how to communicate effectively with people with all types of disabilities, including people with communication difficulties. Just because a person may have difficulty speaking does NOT mean they necessarily have difficulty communicating or understanding what you are saying.


4.  Have communication tools on hand

Hospitals and paramedics should have communication tools, like picture boards and alphabet boards, to help patients and staff communicate better.

Communication boards

5.  Ensure people know how to use communication tools

Written information and training should be provided for staff about how to appropriately use communication tools.

Picture board instructions

6.  Provide information in Easy English

Information on procedures and consent documents should be available for people in a range of accessible formats. Easy English versions of information about different medical conditions and procedures should be available to support people who may have difficulties with literacy or understanding complex information.

Easy English example cover page

I’ve heard that certain reception desks around the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s campuses have been awarded with the Communication Access Symbol. I know next time I need to visit hospital, that will be my hospital of choice!

If you would like more information on how to improve the communication accessibility of your business, service or organisation, contact Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre on 1300 472 673 or