Our last article explored how various healthcare providers can make more information available online. This article will cover how healthcare providers can use their websites to make patients and visitors with disabilities aware of the accessible services they have. Providers need to be more conscious of accessibility when providing online healthcare information.
Online Healthcare Information: Providing Accessibility Awareness
All health care providers can use their websites as a way to advertise their accessible features. For instance, providers can state on their websites if they have accessible structural features, such as:
- Outdoor paths
- Outdoor public eating areas
- Fixed waiting areas, fixed queuing guides, and service counters
- Automatic doors and wide doorways
- Paths of travel into and through buildings
- Waiting areas and examination rooms that accommodate visitors using mobility devices
- Public washrooms
- Ramps, lifts or elevators whenever there are stairs
In addition, providers can advertise other accessible equipment they have, such as:
- Height-adjustable examination tables
- Accessible diagnostic equipment, such as scales
Larger organizations should also mention any accessibility equipment or services available on-site for patients or visitors, such as:
- Assistive listening systems
- Sign language interpretation
- Closed, open, or real-time captioning
- Communication boards
- Augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) devices
Smaller providers that do not have such services or equipment available on-site can state their willingness to accommodate patients who bring or arrange their own. For instance, providers can state their welcome of patients or visitors who use communication supports or devices.
Standardized Online Healthcare Information is Needed
Hospitals around Ontario offer widely different amounts and kinds of accessibility information on their websites. For example, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) provides detailed information about where patients and families can find or request a variety of accessible services. In contrast, other hospitals, such as Georgian Bay General Hospital, have shorter accessibility pages that direct patients to their AODA-mandated accessibility plans. This type of page does not give patients useful information such as:
- Which door they can enter using a wheelchair
- Whether volunteers are available to escort patients
- How far in advance to book an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter
Furthermore, some hospitals have strong accessibility pages, but they do not address all accessibility concerns, or they overlook accessibility when they implement unique services. For instance, the Kingston General Hospital has placed whiteboards in all of its patient rooms, so that different medical professionals and family members involved in a patient’s care can communicate more easily. However, their accessibility page does not mention how they would make this unique and valuable service accessible to a patient, visitor, or healthcare professional who is blind or deafblind.
Similarly, the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) accessibility page offers detailed information about accessible entrances, parking, teletypewriters, and wheelchairs. However, these details are not listed under headings on the main page, so that people can quickly find the information they need. Instead, tabs to the information appear below details about the centre’s policy and plans. This layout makes it easy for people to overlook information. Moreover, these topics only highlight a few accessibility concerns. The page makes no mention of other accessibility concerns, such as accessible washrooms or Sign language interpreters.
Addressing the Gaps
In other words, hospitals are uneven in their posting of online healthcare information. An AODA healthcare standard should address this gap, so that all healthcare providers offer the detailed information that patients need and deserve.
The first step to creating online health care information is for providers to make their websites accessible. Our next article will offer more information about accessible websites.