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Disability support worker comforting a person with intellectual disability as they wait in Emergency

Disability Staff

Waiting in Emergency 

Disability support staff often accompany people with intellectual disabilities to hospital.

In these scenes,  Jeff is accompanied by Amelia, his disability support worker, and Curtis is accompanied by John, his disability support worker.

Applying the Framework

Diagram showing the four framework processes, with the Knowing segment highlighted.

Knowing that

  • The number of people in the hospital emergency waiting area doesn’t reflect what is happening within the Emergency Department itself.

  • Ambulance arrivals are not seen by people in the waiting area, but contribute to how busy it is in Emergency .

  • A nurse triages each patient on arrival, ranking the urgency of their  problem. 

  • Patients are seen according to the urgency of their condition rather than the time they arrived. 

Diagram showing the four framework processes, with the Informing segment highlighted.



As a disability support worker, you will need to tell the nurse  

  • your relationship with the person with intellectual disability and what you know about their current medical issue

  • how long you can stay with them

  • if you expect someone else will arrive to support the person 

  • how they show or communicate pain, discomfort, or distress

  • how to include the person in conversations about them

Diagram showing the four framework processes, with the Collaborating segment highlighted.

Collaborating is when you


  • stay calm when telling hospital staff about the person you are supporting

  • repeat information for different hospital staff

  • answer questions about the person you are supporting while involving them

Diagram showing the four framework processes, with the Supporting segment highlighted.



The person you accompany to hospital will feel supported when you

  • anticipate and advocate for their needs

  • relay what hospital staff tell you in ways the person can understand

  • seek their permission to talk to hospital staff on their behalf

  • reassure them by explaining what will happen and staying calm


Knowing something about the hospital system will be useful background when you accompany a person with intellectual disability to hospital.

People with intellectual disabilities who live in supported accommodation often rely on disability support staff when they present to an Emergency Department. On arrival, you will need to tell hospital staff about your relationship with the person you are with. You may need to give key information in ways that keep them involved in the conversation. You will also need to advocate for their needs.

Long waits are difficult for people with intellectual disabilities.  Sharing information and concerns with hospital staff is the first step in collaborating to find ways to support the person.

You can find further information in Resources about Hospital Emergency Department Processes.



These are provided to support your learning, individually or in a group. You can write responses in the workbook sections available for download. 

Write down responses to the following in your workbook:

  1. List two reasons why answering a triage nurse's questions on behalf of a person you support would help to smooth the hospital journey for them.

  2. Explain why you would ask the person in your care for permission to answer a nurse's questions about them  from the perspective of (a) the person with intellectual disability and (b) the nurse.

  3. Describe ways you could support the person with intellectual disability during a lengthy wait in an Emergency waiting area.

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