Communication: Accessibility Design in Healthcare

My drive to design products stems from the desire to ease physical burdens and communication barriers in a user’s life.

A few weeks ago, my uncle had a stroke. I watched him struggle to communicate with my father through a white board and red dry erase marker in the hospital. My uncle’s unsteady hand gripped around the dry erase marker and scribbled “applesauce” in Chinese. As I witnessed this interaction between my uncle and father, I thought about accessibility design for patients.

  • How can my uncle communicate his needs and wants after this stroke?What would be the extent of his physical capabilities with a tablet or device?
  • What would an innovative hospital and rehabilitation center look like in the United States? How do healthcare professionals communicate with patients around the world?
  • What is the ideal model of communication for those unable to speak or communicate in English? How would this be implemented?

These questions keep my mind ticking. I need to develop better solutions and well-designed products for people like my uncle. I often think about other relatives and people in my life with different health problems. I wonder how people improvise when facing challenges with verbal communication. I can understand the frustration a patient may have when unable to communicate their needs and wants.

In particular, I draw upon my memories of my late grandfather trying to express thoughts and needs with his limited English vocabulary. I can recall hopping around to different hospitals and rehabilitation centers in the Bay Area. I have definitely visited my share of hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and convalescent homes. I have stared at nurses sliding over a paper sheet with rudimentary Chinese to English translations. I was probably 7 years old at the time, but I could still sense my grandfather’s frustrations with language barriers. He would point to images and actions on the labeled sheet of paper that did not cover the scope of his needs.

Imagine if that paper had colored images and better translations. How often are instructions lost in translation between different languages and cultures? Thinking from the patient’s perspective, I would take verbal communication, physical cues, and cultural barriers into consideration. Accessibility design would have greatly improved a non-English speaking patient’s experiences.

By the way, Google Translate offers Chinese (Traditional), but it does not quite capture nuances in the Cantonese language. This is a major pet peeve of mines since my late grandfather felt most at ease with the Cantonese language.