Part of being an informed patient and making good health choices depends on understanding complex issues. For people with disabilities who may face communication barriers, poor or ineffective communication pertaining to serious medical issues can have disastrous results. “How much medicine did he say I had to take?” “I’m not sure what she said about cleaning my incision site and stitches.” “What medical procedure did I just agree to?”
To create an equal opportunity for people with disabilities to understand and access medical care, it is necessary for healthcare providers to recognize and remove any communication barriers that people with disabilities may encounter. Disabilities that may affect an individual's ability to effectively communicate in a medical setting include hearing, speech, vision, and cognition.
Communication includes the exchange of information in all forms, including voice, auditory, print, and electronic. Private healthcare providers should be familiar with the various disabilities that necessitate effective communication strategies, as well as available auxiliary aids and services that may be used to ensure effective communication with doctors, dentists, therapists, hospital staff, etc.
Private healthcare facilities should assess each situation on an individualized, case-by-case basis, in order to determine if they need to provide auxiliary aids and services and thus ensure effective communication with an individual with a disability. The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication may depend on the length and complexity of the communication involved. Examples of auxiliary aids and services used to accommodate people with disabilities include the following:
- Qualified sign language interpreters
- Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)
- Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
- Telecommunications/relay services
- Alternate formats for printed materials (e.g. Braille, large print)
- Accessible Internet sites
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