Beyond the ramp

Profile photo of Erika Whineray-KellyFab 50 member and co-founder of Auckland Breast Centre Erica Whineray-Kelly has written a beautiful piece about the importance of accessible health care. In 2017 ABC was awarded a Gold accessibility rating.

This piece was published in the June edition of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons’ "Cutting Edge" magazine.



Beyond the Ramp: Aspirations for Accessible Healthcare

Erica Whineray Kelly, FRACS, Be Accessible Fab 50 Leader

"I remember sitting in the waiting room after I’d been called back in for my results and I had my brother with me. It’s probably very bad taste, but we were joking about who the poor person would be that had the job of telling the blind girl she’s now got cancer…"

Minnie Baragwanath, NZOM had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and having the inherited retinal condition, Stargardt’s disease that left Minnie legally blind, Minnie and I were both about to experience just how accessible the medical system was. I was not Minnie’s doctor but an old family friend who gave her some support along the way.

It was amazing to observe the added difficulties that people with access needs face: Minnie could not read her mammogram reminder, the medication bottles were all the same and the font too small, every appointment reminder came in a letter, and there was no handover between services that Minnie had low vision and would need a phone call or email (Minnie’s email ‘talks’). But better still, the district nurse was unable to visit everyday and Minnie was instructed to dress the wounds herself: Minnie could not see the wounds and the dressings were not on them…

That might feel like an extreme so how big is this problem? How big is the access community?

It is 25% and may be transient. It is anyone who is blind or can’t read print easily, anyone who has difficulty understanding things, anyone with a baby in a pushchair, anyone with crutches etc. It is an important issue in healthcare too as people with disabilities tend to have more healthcare needs, and failure to access adequate treatments is a burden to the patient and also to the system.

What this journey has shown me is that we all have work to do to improve accessibility in the healthcare system. But it has also shown me that the steps required are pretty small. In fact, improving accessibility benefits all the users of the system.

Personally, it was confronting for me to see that the access strategy for our private clinic was ‘nice staff and a ramp’. In fact there were many obstacles: busy website with background colours & moving graphics, the website platform was not Screen-

Reader compatible, small font and too much information on our business cards, letterheads and information sheets. We had small corridors, discrete signs, and with busy radiology and also surgical clinics, patients could end up not knowing if they were in the correct place.

Our first step was to get Be. Welcome involved ( An assessment from the Be. team highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly. From there we established a plan for getting to Gold, which we were awarded in 2017.

Where do you start? A self-assessment.

Are you accessible? A conversation with Be.Welcome is a great place to start.

Did you know?
  • Apple products all have an accessibility feature;
  • Not all website platforms are Screen-Reader compatible;
  • Videos are an excellent way to convey information;
  • Videos for Deaf people will need to be sign language interpreted (subtitles are useful for hearing-impaired only);
  • offers 24/7 relay for Deaf, hearing impaired, and speech-impaired citizens;
  • Turning lights on and off will alert Deaf customers to an emergency;
  • The Accessibility Page is the most visited on our website.

As surgeons, we understand that disability is just another kind of diversity like culture, gender and sexual orientation, and it is a valuable source of insight, adaptability and high-quality service. We should promote inclusiveness throughout our organisations and to advocate for policies and programs that support it. I encourage you to reflect on your organisations- are they accessible?