Within the next 10 years or so, there is an expected shortage of speech therapists. In part this is due to an increased demand, but it is also due to the large number of speech therapists that will be retiring. Additional complications arise from the increase of patients who have a native language other than English. One way this shortage can be combatted is by utilizing the relatively new delivery method of teletherapy. Teletherapy can be especially beneficial for multilingual patients.
In small communities, or for underserved minority populations, it can be difficult for patients to find a local speech therapist that speaks the patient’s native language. The native language will certainly have an impact on the patient’s ability to speak English. If the patient needs to learn language skills due to an injury, being able to relate in the native language as well as English would be beneficial. For students with a speech delay or disability, being able to speak both languages would assist in communicating with parents and in resolving issues that may be complicated by speaking one language in an educational setting and a different language at home.
According to the most recent data available, Spanish is the most common language spoken at home for those living in America other than English. The other top five languages spoken at home are Chinese, French, German, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. While services from bilingual specialists who speak Spanish are becoming more common it is often more difficult to find a speech therapist who can also speak one of the less common languages. To put it into perspective, as of 2000 there were over 200 million people in America who spoke only English at home and about 28 million people who spoke Spanish at home. The country with the fewest people speaking it at home was Hungarian, with about 118 thousand people.
There is a clear need for speech therapists that are bilingual; however, it is often difficult for patients with a specific language need to find therapists in their area. Teletherapy is the perfect solution for this problem. A therapist living in California that speaks Hungarian could be matched with a patient in Georgia. By using a webcam, headset, and high-speed Internet connection the two would be able to engage in therapy sessions while thousands of miles apart.
Teletherapy allows previously underserved minorities to receive the help they need in a timely manner from professionals uniquely qualified to assist them. As a speech therapist, imagine the impact you could have if you had access to patients from across the nation rather than in your immediate area. You would be able to reach those patients with special language needs and remain in the community of your choice rather than moving to a city with a high population density of your target patient.
How interested are you in providing services via teletherapy? Do you already utilize this technology? How would you spread the word to minority communities about this speech therapy option?