Current Issue #488

Designing for Diversity in Aged-Care

Designing for Diversity in Aged-Care

While South Australia’s population is ageing rapidly, it’s also becoming increasingly diverse, and the aged-care needs of culturally and linguistically diverse peoples must be met in .

More than ever, people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community and First Australian communities are seeking aged-care services.

Catering for the needs of these ageing communities poses challenges for service providers yet also presents important opportunities to seek input into designing and delivering appropriate services.

The idea that it is sufficient for aged-care providers to simply treat everybody equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, faith, sexuality and gender identity is a disservice to all clients. This approach has the potential to see staff look past the specific cultural requirements of people, and, in doing so, the fact that culture and identity shape a person’s worldview, their daily routines and the way they interact with the outside world.

It is helpful for those providing support to people from diverse communities and backgrounds to have an understanding of someone’s culture and identity in order to support them to continue to lead their unique life.

Take cultural identity for example. Modern-day Australia is a diverse country, with 49 per cent of our population either born overseas or having at least one parent born overseas. Nearly a quarter of Australians aged over 65 were born in a non-English speaking country, with this number expected to grow in the coming years.

Given this growth, service providers who take into account the specific needs of people from diverse ethnicities are more likely to attract and retain clients from this market segment. These needs include information that is available in multiple languages as well as simplified English, easy access to interpreters and translators and staff members who are educated to be responsive to diverse cultural norms and requirements.


Culturally sensitive services are also necessary to address the needs of First Australians many of whom have experienced discrimination, which has resulted in disconnection from land, country and family over generations.

The specific needs of First Australians include the acknowledgement of the importance of kin, an understanding of cultural norms and rites, longer time periods to develop trust with service providers due to a history of discrimination and an understanding of the physical and mental health effects stemming from racism.

In addition to our ethnic diversity, an estimated 8 to 11 per cent of our population identify as LGBTI. Despite the size of this community, older LGBTI people continue to be invisible within our stereotyped vision of ageing. Look around at the stereotyped images of older people in our community and most feature active, white and heterosexual couples.

The dangers of this invisibility for older LGBTI people include long-term same-sex partners being excluded from careplanning, and isolation from communities that they share a history and identity with.

To help address some of the concerns experienced by older LGBTI South Australians, ECH recently embarked on a project working with a group of lesbians, gay men and transpeople aged 55 or older to co-design services for LGBTI older people in South Australia. Participants were interviewed about what was important to them, their hopes and fears about ageing and what a perfect LGBTI-inclusive service would look like to them.


These conversations have enabled the design of services better tailored to the LGBTI community. The work in this space has also earned ECH Rainbow Tick accreditation, making ECH the only agedcare provider in South Australia to achieve this recognition. The accreditation is a way to demonstrate to current and future clients and employees, together with their family and friends, the commitment ECH makes to being a safe and inclusive work place and service provider for people in the ECH community who identify as LGBTI.

Due to the specific needs of First Australians, LGBTI communities and ethnically diverse communities, a ‘onesize fits all’ approach is inadequate to meeting those needs. Instead creating an open dialogue with people from these communities is a vital first step in assessing how best to meet their needs.

Taking an educated guess is not enough. Knowing what diverse communities want in order to provide a service that people from those communities will use is key. It’s no use spending time and money on services that lack genuine substance, as people who have experienced racism, homophobia and stressful migration experiences have learnt to identify tokenism and will go elsewhere.

Above all else, however, the most important reason to tailor services that meets the needs of diverse community groups is to provide a quality service that truly addresses their needs and brings about hope, acceptance and connection.

Robyn Burton, ECH Diversity Project Manager


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