Practice accessibility: considerations and requirements
The key legislative framework relating to practice accessibility is the federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) which, in broad terms, makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person in terms of access to services on the basis of a temporary or permanent physical or intellectual disability. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission has developed a guide describing legal obligations in relation to disability access to buildings and physical premises. There are some exemptions for existing premises and older facilities. However, if you are fitting out, building, or upgrading/modifying a practice, you must do so with reference to these obligations. These cover aspects of the practice including:
- width and accessibility of spaces like doorways and passageways; and
- additional considerations: railings, ramps and accessible parking.
Ensuring any practice renovations or new fit outs comply with these standards will minimise the risk of successful legal action being taken under the DDA.
If your practice is presently not accessible to some patients with physical disabilities or needs (e.g. cannot accommodate large wheelchairs due to steps or door width), there needs to be an alternative strategy to ensure that patients are able to obtain care, such as offering home visits.
Low vision accessibility
It is important that your practice is physically accessible to low vision patients, who are also protected from discrimination under the federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992. This will include ensuring that guide or assistance dogs are able to come into the premises if required.
Vision Australia can provide information about ensuring your practice is accessible for low vision patients.
Vision Australia’s Digital Access Consulting service is available for practices wanting to ensure that their online and digital presence is best-practice, and accessible to people with low vision.
Low vision services
You may see low vision patients in your practice who need particular care, testing, equipment/vision aids or clinical experience. There are a number of practices where there are optometrists who are experienced and have the equipment needed to be able to provide this kind of care. Optometry Australia’s Low Vision Services Guide provides an outline of optometry and other services in each state for people with low vision needs. Keep a copy handy in the practice, or make sure that staff members know how to access this information online and are familiar with service providers and options in your community.
Optometry Australia also has some informative videos about providing low vision clinical care.
Interpreter service for deaf, hearing impaired or speech impaired patients
The Australian government’s free National Relay Service can assist patients who are deaf/hearing impaired, or speech impaired, through the telephone, using internet relay. The technology allows you to type your side of the conversation on a computer, laptop or internet-enabled mobile device (smartphone or tablet), and to read the other person’s responses on your screen. You can both make and receive internet relay calls through this app.
Assistance with languages
Unfortunately the national Translating and Interpreting Service that can be used by medical practitioners and specialists is not available for optometry consultations. There may be local health care interpreter services in your state.
The Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health has information and resources about cultural competence in health care, with a particular focus on refugee and migrant backgrounds. Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria provides information, resources and some training about understanding health needs for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered/intersex communities. The Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has some information on cultural competence relating to the delivery of care for patients with a mental health condition or concern. The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria has some general protocols and checklists to assist in developing cultural competence.
There are a number of opportunities for health care workers interested in indigenous cross-cultural competencies, through various providers, with online and face-to-face options, some of which are listed here. The Centre for Cultural Competence Australia offers general courses in indigenous cross-cultural understanding.