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A Culture of Respect for Accessibility in Healthcare

Currently, there are still no AODA healthcare standards. However, an AODA standards development committee drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA healthcare standards should include. These guidelines include creating a culture of respect for accessibility in healthcare.

The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on the hospital setting. However, patients and healthcare workers with disabilities also face barriers in other parts of the healthcare system, including:

  • Doctors’ offices
  • Walk-in clinics
  • Wellness centres
  • Pharmacies
  • Labs
  • Nursing homes
  • Outpatient rehabilitation centres
  • Health regulatory colleges

Therefore, all these settings should have cultures that respect patients’ accessibility needs.

A Culture of Respect for Accessibility in Healthcare

Healthcare providers aim to provide high-quality care to all patients. Moreover, hospitals support this aim through value statements or philosophies of care that centre on their patients, and their patients’ families. However, healthcare workers may have limited knowledge about ways to show this same respect to patients who have disabilities. Hospital staff may not know how to provide quality care that honours patients’ independence or their rights to accommodation. Therefore, the committee recommends that hospital policies and practices should be flexible, to meet patients’ accessibility needs and promote dignity and equal opportunity.

Flexible Policies

For example, a hospital may have a policy of cancelling an appointment when the patient is late. However, patients who use specialized transportation often have little control over their arrival time. When patients are late for this reason, staff may respond by cancelling appointments. However, this response shows limited awareness of how these patients’ mode of travel impacts the rest of their lives.

Conversely, more flexible policies would respect these patients’ travel accommodations. For instance, policies could require staff to contact patients before cancelling their appointments, to learn whether lateness is due to circumstances beyond a patient’s control.

Similarly, policies may limit the time allotted for appointments. However, some patients may need more time to communicate with their healthcare provider, or during an examination. For instance, patients may:

  • Speak slowly or repeat themselves
  • Need their doctor to repeat information, or restate it in clear language
  • Use communication supports, such as:
    • Sign language interpretation
    • A communication board
  • Bring a support person, to help with communication or mobility
  • Transfer from an assistive device to an examination table

When hospital staff always enforce appointment time limits, they do not respect the diverse ways in which patients move and communicate. In contrast, more flexible policies would allow patients the time they need to access their appointments. For example, a policy could require that when a patient makes an appointment, staff ask about any accommodation needs. If a patient requires more time for their appointment, staff should respect and accommodate this need.

These changes to hospital policy should help healthcare workers understand and accommodate the needs of their patients with disabilities. More knowledge of how accommodations impact patients’ lives will allow healthcare providers to offer these patients the same quality of care that non-disabled patients receive.