One of the concepts woven through the aged care quality framework is that aged care is accessible for all people who need it.

But what does that mean? What makes up accessible aged care and what are the barriers that organisations need to consider to ensure that aged care supports are available for all people who need them?

Colourful paper figures of people holding hands in a circle. Text reads: What are the barriers to inclusive and accessible aged care?

I guess the first step in accessing aged care services is that a person has to know they are there, and often, that is where the first barrier lies.

It’s normal to be selectively blind to services that we don’t necessarily need; the opposite of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, where once you’ve become aware of something you seem to see is everywhere. But what if someone does need aged care services and they have no awareness?

A colleague I was speaking to recently, noted that his older sister who lived in a major city, some hours away from him had experienced some health setbacks and was in need of assistance. He was trying to assist her and asked her about aged care services and supports in her area, however she had no idea what he was talking about. Aged care support just wasn’t on her radar and she had no idea that there was support available to her. She knew about aged care facilities, but nothing at all about home care services.

That got me thinking – are we doing that bad a job of alerting the general public to aged care support? Do people think that the only aged care available is residential care? What are the barriers to wider knowledge of aged care services?

Those of us in the industry understand that the My Aged Care portal is the gateway to accessing aged care services, but does the general public? What role do service providers play in assisting people to access supports?

The developers of the My Aged Care portal have taken their responsibility seriously and have worked at making the site more accessible. The clear images, simple language and use of white space makes reading easier for the majority of users. The new online assessment process also uses images which make it clearer for the user and questions are well spaced out. For most people accessing the site, the changes have made applying for an assessment clear and simple.

The main issue now appears to be alerting people to the process.

I’ve found that despite having a portal, many people still reach out to an organisation they trust or person working in the industry when it comes to learning about and accessing aged care services.

Many seniors are not tech savvy and the process of finding the service provider that is right for them may be more difficult, especially when using the My Aged Care portal. A search of Home Care Package providers in a region can bring up a multitude of package managers who may be based many hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometres from the person’s home.

The personal touch is perhaps best and maybe it is the responsibility of service providers to make it easier for people to access support. Rather than waiting for clients to come to you, maybe you should be reaching out to them, reassuring them there is support when they need it.

What can you do to improve the accessibility of aged care for clients?

Brochures, Posters & Promotional Tools

For many people, reading a simple brochure that highlights aged care supports that are available to them can be the first step along the pathway into aged care. However, there is little sense in having a brochure that simply sits in your office. You need to get them out and circulating in the community, perhaps in the public library, the Council office, the local Centrelink office, the senior citizens club and the General Practice clinics. While many people will ignore them because they hold little relevance at that time, just having them out there helps with awareness and also promotes your service.

And make those leaflets engaging. A good brochure not only delivers on the essential written message, it should also support understanding of concepts or instructions within the brochure and be easy for people to read.

Some ideas for improved accessibility within brochures include:

  • images and/or symbols to aid understanding of the subject matter
  • use of white space – don’t try to crowd too much information into the brochure
  • use a large font size (12 point is good) and space words where necessary
  • use a ‘sans serif’ font – don’t be clever with script style fonts as they can be difficult to read, particularly in low light
  • include a single point of contact and ensure that anyone in your team answering these enquiries has the knowledge and information to respond directly when they call
  • consider the background and font colours used – even I find it hard to read red font printed on a yellow background.

Additionally, don’t underestimate something as small as a fridge magnet with your organisation logo and contact number on it. You will be surprised how prominent and long lasting these can be and how much more accessible it will make the information instead of being in a recycle bin or pile of papers.

Website

While many older people may not access the internet regularly, their family members will. When they are searching for assistance for mum, dad or aunty, they may come across your organisation’s website.

  • Does your website clearly outline the aged care services that are available and how a person can access these?
  • Does it have hyperlinks to the My Aged Care website?
  • Is this information easy to find on your website?
  • Is it written in plain English and is it up to date?

Perhaps find a friend or someone in your organisation who knows little about aged care and ask them to review your site as if they were needing information for their mother or father. They might spot areas that could be improved to make your website even clearer.

Education and Awareness Days

Special needs groups, such as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse populations, may get together for planned cultural celebrations or for group activities. These events may be opportunities for service providers to provide targeted aged care education and awareness days. Attending meetings or presenting to small groups may be a way of bridging the gap and building a relationship so that those who need services and supports understand that something is available.

Networks & Community Advocacy Groups

Developing networks with other health and service providers is an important aspect of an aged care manager or coordinator’s role. They allow the manager to educate other health stakeholders about aged care services and supports and these people can then refer consumers for support.

Building a working relationship with GPs and discharge planners as well as allied health professionals can be a good way of helping a person move from the health system, where their clinical needs have been addressed, through to a support system that can provide ongoing care and services that help consumers live the life they choose. Front line health providers are an important conduit to being aware of and accessing that support for many consumers.

Tap into or support a community-based advocacy group like senior citizens, aged care or community health advisory groups and build linkages that help them assist their target group.

Staff Education

When looking at how to improve accessibility and make your service more inclusive for consumers, your staff are a key element. Employing staff with language skills to engage with clients may be a key consideration for some services, as is employing staff who understand and can relate to the cultural background of clients.

By helping your staff to become informed about aged care programs and pathways to accessing care, they become an effective conduit between the consumer and care services. They are part of their community and can ‘spread the word’ at the grassroots level, be that in a rural farming community, a remote indigenous community or someone who lives within and is linked to an inner-city CALD community. They are out there every day, and if they have a distinct message about what your service does and how people can access support, this will be a major help. Support your staff so they can explain aged care simply and refer people to a clear contact point.

When we seek to improve access for all consumers, we need to consider and seek to remove any systemic barriers and ensure that consumers are encouraged to be active participants in designing care and support that meets their needs.

If you would like to know more about improving access for all consumers to your service, take a look at the Inclusive Service Standards on the Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing’s website.

If you can think of someone else who might benefit from this article, send them a link. We’d appreciate it! And if you’re looking for more helpful resources, why not check out our Resource Hub? We have culturally appropriate, tailored resources that are designed to make your job simpler and help you provide quality care to your clients. Click here to find out more.

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Carrie

Carrie is a passionate advocate for the provision of quality, community based, aged care.
In her spare time, while she ages gracefully, she helps out with kids theatre, rides an electric bike and drags her husband off to explore the world as often as possible.