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A hospital occupational therapist talking to a patient in a wheelchair

Hospital Staff

Waiting in Emergency 

People with intellectual disabilities are often accompanied by family or disability support staff.
In these scenes, Jeff is with Amelia, his disability support worker from his group home and Curtis is with Ray, his father.

Applying the Framework

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

Knowing that

  • Some adults with intellectual disabilities live in group homes or other types of supported accommodation; most live with their families.

  • The accompanying person is often a disability support worker or family member. 

  • Their past hospital experiences may have been negative.

  • Pain, discomfort and anxiety can interfere with how a person communicates.

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



​​You will need to ask the accompanying person about

  • their relationship to the patient

  • their availability to stay with the patient

  • how the patient communicates pain or distress

  • what the person is likely to understand and how they usually communicate

You will need to talk to the patient and accompanying person about

  • possible long wait times

  • strategies you have available to reduce their anxiety

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

Collaborating is when you

  • are willing to answer questions from the accompanying person

  • ask questions that will help you understand the role of the accompanying person

  • respond to their concerns and offer possible solutions

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



Patients with intellectual disabilities will feel supported when you

  • talk to them directly and ask permission to direct questions to the accompanying person

  • make adjustments to reduce their anxiety or discomfort 

The accompanying person will feel supported when you

  • respond to their anxiety with calmness

  • tell them what you can about wait times

  • attempt to resolve current or anticipated problems

  • show that you value their role


Knowing something about the disability service system and people with intellectual disabilities will be useful background when a person with intellectual disability comes to the Emergency Department.

A person with intellectual disability who presents to an Emergency Department is likely to be accompanied by a family member or disability support worker. It is important to establish that person's role and to collaborate by sharing information that will assist with efficient appraisal of their condition. At the same time, you need to demonstrate respect for and inclusion of them and the accompanying person. Quality hospital care for patients with intellectual disabilities requires implementing the framework from the first point of contact with the patient and the person with them.  

You can find more information under Resources about intellectual disability, where people with intellectual disabilities live, and and infograph on who accompanies people with intellectual disabilities to  when they go to hospital.



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

In your workbook, write your responses to the following:

  1. Identify who might accompany patients with intellectual disabilities to a hospital Emergency Department. 

  2. List the types of information that an accompanying person could tell you about a patient with intellectual disability.

  3. Explain the reason for directing your communication to a person who you think has intellectual disability.

  4. Describe how you could obtain the information you need as efficiently as possible, while still demonstrating respect.

  5. Explain what can cause people with intellectual disabilities and their family or disability support workers to be anxious while waiting in emergency.  

  6. List ways that people with intellectual disabilities might express pain or distress. 

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