Projects Disability ServicesPrimary Care

Review of Auslan service use in primary care

Projects Disability ServicesPrimary Care

Review of Auslan service use in primary care

Projects Disability ServicesPrimary Care

Review of Auslan service use in primary care

  • Services

    Evaluation & Advisory

  • Status


  • Client

    Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

  • Jurisdiction


Auslan is a visual, signed language that was developed by and for the Australian Deaf community. People who use Auslan as their primary or preferred language are not necessarily fluent in English. As such, a professional interpreter is often required to ensure that Auslan users and English speakers understand each other. This is especially critical when misunderstandings have potentially serious consequences, such as in health care settings.

Previous work done by the Deaf community highlighted “systemic failures” in the provision of communication supports, including interpreters, to Auslan users in healthcare settings.

To help understand and address this problem, the Australian Government engaged AHA to review the current use of Auslan interpreters in primary care and identify barriers and enablers to access. The project focused on primary care because the Australian Government is responsible for the primary care system, while state and territory governments are responsible for the hospital system.

Primary care is also the “gateway” to the rest of the healthcare system, and is where most healthcare decisions are made. Access to qualified interpreters is therefore crucial for Auslan users – and their primary care providers – to discuss and make informed decisions about their health and health care.

Over a 12-month period, we:

  • Scanned the websites of Auslan interpreting services for service information and promotional materials.
  • Reviewed academic and grey literature to explore known barriers and enablers to the effective use of sign language interpreters in primary care.
  • Consulted with Auslan users and their family members, Auslan interpreting services, Auslan interpreters, peak bodies in the Deaf and health sectors, and primary care professionals and practice managers.

We partnered with Deaf Connect to ensure that project information and consultation materials for Auslan users and family members were culturally appropriate and available in both Auslan and English.

Our final report identifies that the use of Auslan interpreters in primary care is suboptimal due to a range of complex and multi-layered factors in 3 domains:

  • the primary care setting
  • the interpreting industry
  • the broader policy and system landscape.

The report includes 12 recommendations for government and other stakeholders to improve access to Auslan interpreting services, and is accompanied by practical tools that primary care providers can use to better understand how to access – and work effectively with – Auslan interpreters.

This project represents an important step towards addressing the inequitable access to health information and care that many members of the Deaf community experience.