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Being More Inclusive in Your Practice

Jan 13, 2020

The College routinely goes out to speak with physiotherapy students in Ontario. At a recent session at Queens University with our colleagues from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA), the Ontario Physiotherapy Association (OPA) and the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR), one student asked us to speak about making practices and our own organizations more inclusive. This question got us thinking more about inclusion particularly when working with diverse communities who may have experienced a certain level of stigma in the past, such as the LGBTQ community, newcomers, migrants and refugees, and people with disabilities.

We spoke about how younger physiotherapists are the catalyst for change in this area as they are the ones who can raise awareness and challenge traditional thinking. When we revisited this question at the College, we considered some practical ways that physiotherapists can make their practices more inclusive and we came up with the following list. 

Here is what we thought about:

  1. As a health care practitioner, take steps to learn more about gender identity terms. For example, check out this gender identity and expression brochure.  
  2. Ask patients what their preferred name is and include this on written documentation including intake and consent forms.
  3. Ask patients what their preferred pronouns are and use them. Again, allow the patient to tell you this information on an intake/consent form.
  4. Where possible provide gender neutral washrooms or change the signage from something gender specific to washroom.
  5. Ask patients what you can do to make them comfortable in your practice.
  6. Engage in ongoing learning about the communities of patients that you serve.
  7. If you have staff that can deliver care in a language other than English, advertise which languages so patients are aware.
  8. Post Positive Space Signage or Inclusive Practice Signage in your practice.
  9. Consider diversity when you are hiring new staff.
  10. Think of barriers that may be preventing access to care and see if these barriers can be removed. For example, providing written resources in alternate formats or replacing stairs with ramps. 
This list is a jumping off point and there are many things physiotherapists can do to make their practice more inclusive. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights created a handbook for health care providers working with clients from diverse communities. The handbook can be used as a guide for health care workers in providing non-judgmental, stigma-free care – particularly for patients who have had prior experience being stigmatized in the health care system. The handbook provides a variety of tips and tricks, dialogue starters and resources, so be sure to give it a read. 

Remember that under no circumstances can physiotherapists make decisions about providing care based on any of the grounds detailing in the Ontario Human Rights Code. This includes ancestry, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and more. 

Also consider that Ontario has legislation that outlines accessibility standards in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). There are requirements and deadlines that you need to follow, depending on the type and size of your organization. Learn more about your accessibility requirements.

If you have other suggestions about how to make health care more inclusive, we would love to hear them. Please leave a comment below. We will compile all of your suggestions and use them to create new resources on our website.

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