It certainly isn’t news that our country is becoming increasingly diverse. What may surprise us is that some of the biggest growth is happening in non-border, less-urbanized states. California, Texas and Florida continue to have the most residents who were born in another country. However, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, North Carolina and Tennessee all saw more than a 70% increase in foreign-born residents between 2000 and 2012.
This means that ASHA members probably find themselves with more and more English-language learners on their caseloads. These audiologists and SLPs likely also live in areas where there may not be many resources for serving ELL students. Our Code of Ethics states that we should provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services. ASHA also acknowledges that the ideal situation for ELL clients is to work with a bilingual service provider with specific language and clinical skills.
Telepractice offers an elegant solution for connecting colleagues with these competencies to our clients that need them.
The versatility of telepractice makes it useful in different settings. A school district might use several Spanish-speaking telepractitioners to manage its entire ELL caseload. A rural health clinic may create a limited agreement with a bilingual audiologist for follow-up care of a patient who communicates in a less-commonly spoken language.
Telepractice can be used for more than intervention. We can assess patients—even formally—through telepractice. Formal assessment via telepractice is getting easier because many well-known tests are now digitized. Even when a certified professional is not available through telepractice, an onsite team can use technology to connect with interpreters and cultural brokers to help provide appropriate services.
Telepractice licensing, however, remains a hurdle for taking advantage of remote services or becoming a telepractitioner. Most states don’t currently have regulations on telepractice for our professions. ASHA and local associations, however, advocate for states to formulate and adapt guidelines permitting telepractice.
In the meantime, associations advise telepractitioners to verify requirements and policies, as well as hold all appropriate credentials, both in the state where we reside and where the client receives services. This applies also to special credentialing for bilingual telepractitioners.
ASHA doesn’t certify bilingual service providers, but it provides guidelines for those who represent themselves as such. For example, we are ethically-bound to ensure that we speak or sign another language with native or near-native proficiency, and possess various clinical competencies.
To my knowledge, only Illinois and New York have a type of credential for bilingual practitioners, and these are specific to professionals working in schools. However, because policy changes frequently (and is difficult to track), SLPs and audiologists should verify any bilingual-specific requirements in states where they might practice before providing services.
Telepractice holds a lot of promise for serving clients with diverse needs. Even when there is some red tape to figure out, using technology to build bridges to communities that may not have many resources is one of my most rewarding professional experiences!
Nate Cornish, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual (English/Spanish) SLP and clinical director for VocoVision and Bilingual Therapies. He is the professional development manager for SIG 18: Telepractice, a member of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board, and a past president and vice-president of the Hispanic Caucus. Cornish provides clinical support to monolingual and bilingual telepractitioners around the country. He also organizes and presents at various continuing education events, including an annual symposium on bilingualism. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.