Communications tips for consumer directed care

Older woman sitting outside smiling consumer directed care
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The growth of consumer directed care in community services in Australia presents exciting opportunities for clients and organisations alike.

With the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Consumer Directed Care, many clients of disability, mental health and aged care services have the power and control to select their services.

This type of service delivery is likely to increase in the future. In fact, the Productivity Commission public inquiry into human services and increased competition and choice is well underway. Recommendations and a final report are expected to be released in October 2017.

So what does this mean for your organisation? Communicating clearly and directly to current or potential customers is now more important than ever before.

Tips to make your communications customer-focused for consumer directed care

Speak directly to your consumers

The traditional way of describing community services is very different to the way of the future. In the past, a service was described in terms of the problem it solves or the issue it addresses. Clients were referred to with an impersonal term like ‘the individual’, sometimes with an added loaded descriptor of ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘marginalised’.

It’s time to flip the focus. You are now speaking directly to potential customers – how will they feel about being described as disadvantaged or marginalised? And importantly, what services can you provide that meet their goals and needs?

Speak directly to your customers, explain what you do in clear terms and drop any judgmental language.

Cut the jargon

The community services sector is full of complex language and acronyms, which can be overwhelming and confusing for people seeking services or support. If possible, remove acronyms from your vocabulary, or when they are used, make sure you spell them out and explain their meaning.

Make your communications accessible

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, close to 44% of people have low literacy levels and find it challenging to read and make sense of everyday information. Levels of low literacy were found to be higher for older people, with 67% of those aged 60-74 assessed as having lower levels of literacy.

People with an intellectual disability may need Easy English resources to understand the services you provide. Easy English is a style of writing and formatting that uses plain words, large text size, short sentences and images to convey meaning.

Use Plain English language as much as possible, and consider developing Easy English resources to ensure people can access the information they need about your organisation.

Check your language

Make sure you use respectful and inclusive language. There are many great resources available to support your communications which I’ve covered in the blog “Why words matter: writing that promotes inclusion”.

Seek specialised support

Over close to 10 years, I’ve worked within non-profit and community organisations in Melbourne, Australia to drive communications and marketing campaigns and initiatives. Most recently, I have focused on NDIS communications and sharing accessible information about the scheme and the supports available.

Learn more about my skills and experiences or get in touch to discuss your customer-focused communications needs.

Why words matter: writing that promotes inclusion

The words you speak become the house you live in
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Everyone has the right to information that meets their needs and treats them with fairness and respect.

Sometimes when describing people, inaccurate or offensive terms can be unintentionally used. Making sure you use the right terms isn’t just about being ‘politically correct’. Using lazy language can make people feel upset, excluded and misunderstood. It can also deepen divisions and create an ‘us versus them’ environment in the wider community.

As an organisation, living up to your values is critical. One of the best ways you can embed respect is to use fair and inclusive language in your communications.

In the words of Iranian poet Hafiz, “The words you speak become the house you live in”.

Let’s build a house on the write foundations.

Inclusive communications resources

Getting it right when it comes to language isn’t always easy. Luckily there are a number of great resources to get you started.

The ‘Guide to Disability Reporting’ by People with Disability Australia is an excellent resource for checking your language when talking about people with disability. As the guide says in its introduction:

“Your use of language when referring to or talking about people with disability has an impact on the way people with disability feel and the way they are perceived by other people in society. It is important that you are aware of the meaning behind the words you use when talking to, referring to or working with people with disability. Some terms and language can be a barrier to full participation in society and also can mean people with disability feel hurt and excluded.”

The Mindframe Media Guidelines are another great tool that can support you to talk about mental illness and suicide with sensitivity and respect. Developed in partnership by mental health professionals and the media, the Mindframe guidelines aim to change attitudes and perceptions of mental illness and suicide.

The GLAAD Media Reference Guide provides advice on language, content and reporting about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. This guide aims to support fair, accurate and respectful LGBTQ stories.

The ABC’s Indigenous Content Guidelines, while intended for ABC content making, is another useful resource for organisations. These guidelines share advice on language, naming and references, as well as other important cultural traditions and considerations.

Additional resources

Do you have any guides or tips you can recommend? Share your advice in the comments section below.

Seeking specialised support?

Over close to 10 years, I’ve worked within non-profit and community organisations to drive communications and marketing campaigns and initiatives. Making sure people have access to information that is accessible and inclusive is a true passion of mine; and a passion I’d love to share with your organisation.

Learn more about Pen For Purpose, the copywriting, editing and content marketing services available to you, or simply get in touch to talk about your inclusive communications needs.