Can I ask you to wear your face mask?

Scope developed a new Easy English brochure for St Vincent's Hospital to help patients with disability understand their rights

Heather was sitting in the emergency ward, tired and in pain. Why did nobody come to check on her? She watched patient after patient get whisked away by staff in scrubs. Doctors came and left. Heather kept waiting. When the nurse finally arrived with Panadol, hours later, she wore no face mask. “Sorry love,” she said, placing the painkillers on the tray of her walker. “We forgot about you.”

This episode happened months ago in a hospital in Melbourne’s suburbs. Yet it is a familiar experience for people with disability. Many feel easily overlooked and forgotten, says Heather, who has an intellectual disability and muscle weakness on one side of her body.

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne is trying to buck the trend. Named one of the world’s best hospitals by Newsweek magazine, St Vincent’s is embracing the simplified writing style of Easy English to help people with disability feel safe and supported as soon as they arrive at the hospital door.

“We are ready to listen”

St Vincent’s new Easy English Patient Rights Booklet, developed by Scope is now available to inform patients about their rights, in words anyone can understand – whether they speak a foreign language or have a disability like Heather. Meanwhile, a new Easy English poster will be hung up in busy waiting areas and prompt visitors to “tell us what you need”.

“The message is that we are ready to listen, learn and support” says Karen Phipps, one of the Disability Liaison Officers at St Vincent’s. She wants to invite people with disability to speak up and become equal partners, rather than feel overlooked.

Heather has already read the new Easy English booklet and poster, which were created by Scope’s Accessible Information team with funding from the Transurban COVID-19 Recovery Grant. She says she feels more confident after learning about her patient rights.

Call the Disability Liaison Officer

Next time she visits a hospital she would bring her support worker along, she says. She would be sure of her right to ask the nurse to wear a face mask. And she would call for a Disability Liaison Officer – hospital staff who are trained to support people with disability.

“I didn’t know I could ask for more support, I was doubting myself,” says Heather, adding more organisations should follow St Vincent’s lead. “This document should go to all of the hospitals in Australia.”

Head to our website for more information about how Easy English might benefit your organisation.

Contact Scope’s Accessible Information team for more information