St John WA launches Australia first Auslan interpreting service

  • St John WA is the first emergency service in Australia to provide Auslan interpreting services for Deaf and hard of hearing patients and their families,
  • Convo Australia partnership provides all St John WA ambulance crews and St John WA Health Centres with access to certified interpreters in real-time via video call,
  • Hearing loss affects approximately one in six people in Australia which amounts to around 15 per cent of the population.

St John WA has become the first emergency service in Australia to provide Auslan interpreting services for the Deaf and hard of hearing community.  

Through a trailblazing partnership with Convo Australia, all St John WA ambulance crews and health centres have access to interpreters around the clock, at the touch of a button. 

Convo Australia is a Deaf-owned and operated service, providing on-demand sign language interpreting through a simple video call.  

It is available on all St John WA iPads through an app which connects patients and personnel with an experienced and NAATI certified interpreter in real time.  

Through this first-of-its-kind partnership, St John WA has access to a priority queue, meaning most calls are answered within a minute.  

This resource enables first responders, patients, and bystanders to access an interpreter anytime, from anywhere, to share vital information during emergencies. 

Accessing healthcare, particularly urgent care, is especially challenging for the Deaf and hard of hearing due to communication barriers and the need to book an interpreting service ahead of time, which are sometimes not available. 

Convo Australia Customer Service Officer Joshua Levitzke-Gray said communication barriers caused a lot of anxiety for Deaf people accessing pre-hospital care. 

“Since joining this partnership with St John WA, the impact has been enormous,” he said. 

“Having an interpreting service throughout that full pre-hospital experience, from ambulance to triage, means less stress for the Deaf person, but not only for the Deaf person who is receiving the help, but maybe even a child whose parent needs that help. 

“As a Deaf person, if I saw an accident happen, I can tell the story and fully explain in my language what I have seen. Access to Auslan can saves lives across the board.”

 Since Convo was rolled out in January, St John WA crews have used the service 37 times for more than 105 minutes, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

St John WA Ambulance Paramedic Tahni Baird said it was a lifesaver for crews and patients communicating during time critical medical emergencies.   

Mrs Baird said using an interpreter meant paramedics could ask questions directly to Deaf or hard of hearing patients to fully understand their needs.

“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said.  

“I’ve had Deaf and hard of hearing patients in the past and I really feel that I haven’t been able to give them the best care that I could, because I didn’t understand what they were trying to tell me.   

“So being able to remove that barrier has been really helpful to be able to provide the best care that that we can.  

“Disability access really should be foremost in everybody’s mind, especially for healthcare.” 

Convo Global Co-Founder and Chief Impact Officer Braam Jordaan said the partnership was a gamechanger in providing equitable care for the Deaf or hard of hearing community.

“This is a huge leap, a leap of faith even, starting this partnership because the Deaf community, we suffer due to the lack of resources and support for our communication needs,” he said. 

“In moments when we focus on our wellbeing and our health, communication should be seamless, and our service supports the effective implementation of those conversations.

“It is the same for first responders and health centre staff, being able to have a conversation will reduce their anxiety because every minute matters. It is life and death in those situations.

“I also hope that other departments and other services will look at St John WA and their innovation and that will lead to others following that example.”

The new partnership builds on programs spearheaded by St John WA Ambulance Paramedic Lauren D’Arcy whose advocacy has led to tailored Auslan training for team members and volunteers.

It is a significant step in a broader effort by St John WA to make pre-hospital care more inclusive and accessible for all.  

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