Easy Read: inclusive mental health services for all

Bronwyn Newman’s research reveals the need for more Easy Read information in mental health services.

Easy Read is a recognised as a way of writing that is accessible to people with intellectual disability. It uses simple words, short sentences and pictures to communicate information. Bronwyn Newman has just released research revealing that both health professionals and patients want more Easy information in NSW mental health services.

We asked Bronwyn about her research findings and how mental health services can become more inclusive with Easy Read.

Can you tell us about your research?

Our research looked at the use of Easy Read information in mental health services in NSW.
We interviewed a wide range of people: patients with intellectual disability, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and disability professionals. Our interviews covered mainstream mental health services as well as specialist disability services. 

We asked people if they had access to Easy Read information in mental health services. And, if they said yes, how did they use them?

What did you find in your research?

We found that access to Easy Read materials was very limited in mainstream mental health services. Most staff we spoke to did not use Easy Read or other forms of accessible information, because it simply was not available. 

Staff were disappointed with this lack of access to Easy Read. They told us they felt uncomfortable because they often could not give patients the opportunity to properly consider their treatment options or make their own decisions.

We also found that people who had used Easy Read in a mental health setting really liked it. Patients and staff wanted more of it. They saw it as a valuable tool to aid decision making.

Listen to Bronwyn talking about this research

What are the benefits of Easy Read?

There really are so many benefits it’s hard to know where to start!

For some of the patients we interviewed, having Easy Read was about independence. Easy Read was a gateway for people with cognitive or intellectual disability to be able to attend appointments on their own and independently make decisions about their own health care.

For most people we interviewed easy read was used as a tool for conversation. Easy Read provided a shared vocabulary and allowed for a shared understanding, which empowered patients to ask questions and express an opinion. They understood what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

Staff said that Easy Read improved the patient-staff relationship. The ability for a patient to understand their health options transformed the relationship from a ‘top-down’ model into a more shared conversation.

Staff also said having Easy Read would make them more confident with things like consent: they would be much more confident that a patient understood what they were signing if consent forms were in Easy Read.

One of the most powerful benefits of Easy Read was that it was potentially useful for all patients – not just for people with cognitive or developmental disabilities - even for people who are just having a bad day or feeling stressed. 

Your research clearly shows that both patients and staff want more Easy Read. What are some of the barriers to using Easy Read in health services?

Lack of availability of Easy Read information, lack of training, lack of time. These were some of the key barriers found in this research.

Staff said they would use Easy Read information if they had access to it, but for a lot of respondents, Easy Read simply was not available.

Time was also an important barrier. Some staff expressed real frustration about time constraints. They said things like “If I had time, I could do a better job... I know I'm not doing what I need to do, but I don't quite know how to address it.”

We found that staff often reverted to communicating with support workers or family members, rather than with the patient themselves, when they were stuck for time or did not have suitable information.

Having Easy Read information available would reduce the time commitment needed to explain health issues and treatment options.

What can be done to make Easy Read more available?

There are lots of options. 

In the United Kingdom (UK), for example, health services need to show they have accessible information available in order to receive funding. This policy has led to a lot more accessible information being available in the UK.

This type of policy could be a great stepping stone for the Australian context. But some researchers warned that this policy alone could encourage ‘box ticking’, where health services demonstrate that they have Easy Read resources available, but do not invest time into using them effectively.

Staff still need to have the time to commit to a longer appointment, to sit and read through the information with the patient and to check whether it makes sense to them. As one practitioner said, “It's not just about giving the piece of paper and saying goodbye. It really is about making sure people are able to understand what's on the piece of paper and that it's tailored to meet their needs.”

A range of strategies are needed to get Easy Read working for our health services and patients. I think there needs to be a pilot program and formal evaluation of how Easy Read could work for staff, patients and supporters. 

What’s your dream for our health services? What would you like to see in 5, 10, 15 years’ time?

I would love to see a time when our health services catered for everybody, where it was easy for everyone to find what they need and get the information they need, when they need it.

Find out more

About Bronwyn

Bronwyn started her career as a social worker, where she noticed the struggle many people with intellectual disability and their families faced when seeking health information and services. This inspired her to study her PhD at UNSW on Easy Read information in mental health services. She now works at the Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University and is passionate about the right to health information for all people. See Bronwyn’s academic profile.

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