Discussing speech pathology with Belinda Hill

A look inside the Penrith clinic of Belinda Hill & Associates. Photo: Belinda Hill & Associates/supplied.

The Sentinel helps illuminate a vital health profession that often gets misunderstood, in an interview with speech pathologist Belinda Hill. Story by the Straight Plains Press news team at Western Sydney University (Claudia Larbie, Kasozi Livingstone and Corin Shearston).

Speech Pathology Week recently took place from the 22 to 28 August in a national initiative aiming to change awareness around communication disability; a matter that rarely gets addressed on a community level. 

Belinda Hill, at front, with some of her clinical team from February 2019. Photo: Belinda Hill And Associates/Supplied.

According to Speech Pathology Australia, there are over 1.2 million Australians with communication disabilities. One in seven of these Australians require formal assistance when communicating.

“People who can’t communicate, understand information, or structure arguments are ultimately at risk of being overlooked, and not having their rights respected,” stated Speech Pathology Australia president Tim Kimmel in a recent media release.

In conjunction with Speech Pathology Week, we spoke with senior speech pathologist Belinda Hill, to explore the importance of speech pathology and the current challenges being faced by the industry. 

Ms Hill has directed her Penrith-based practice, Belinda Hill & Associates, since 1995. Over the years, her one woman business grew to include six other speech pathologists and three occupational therapists while becoming a part of Speech Pathology Australia.

Hill had her doubts when she entered the profession; but now says her practice has created a real sense of community through being in the same location for over 20 years. 

What follows are the highlights from our fascinating chat with her.

CS: Corin Shearston

KL: Kasozi Livingstone

BH: Belinda Hill

CS: Thanks for coming to the interview 

BH: Thanks for being interested in something I could talk about all day!

KL: We wanted to know what your main challenges are at the moment. 

BH: Interacting with other people but not doing it in person is very different in terms of communication compared to face to face. So for people with communication [or technology] problems, I would have to say that not all of them are getting equal access at the moment. Some of the mental health challenges that people are having are from a lack of social contact and social communication. 

Images from Speech Pathology Australia’s digital campaign kit. Photos: Speech Pathology Australia.

CS: You’ve been doing speech pathology since 1995. Why did you want to become a speech pathologist in the first place?

BH: When I first started, I had no idea of the scope of the work that speech pathologists do and I think when I enrolled in the course, I didn’t really understand what they did. Once we started working with clients, I realised straight away that that was exactly what I wanted to do. People will always be impacted with communication problems. Without the ability to communicate, people don’t get equality. There is so much unmet need. That has pushed me for trying to improve outcomes for people and for training others in the profession.

KL: What are the realistic goals for therapy? For now, or in the future? 

BH: What we aim to do is improve capacity for communication, and improve people’s access. The goal always comes from the individual’s needs and wants, and our goal is to help them step towards those goals. 

CS: Do you work with children predominantly, or with people who don’t speak English as their first language?

BH: In our clinic, we’re quite diverse from 0-100. A greater percentage of our work is with paediatrics, pre-school and school aged kids. We also help adults with intellectual-physical disabilities, learning disabilities or neurological problems.

Left: A speech pathologist assists a client. Right: Belinda Hill’s practice in Penrith. Photos: Speech Pathology Australia, Belinda Hill & Associates.

CS: You were once a director with Speech Pathology Australia. What did that role involve?

BH: I served on the Board of Directors and I was a Vice President, which was a great opportunity to look at how the profession was working together as a whole across Australia. In my last year, I had the opportunity to go to the UN in New York for the conference of rights for people with a disability. I was able to present a speech at the UN on communication accessibility and it was very positive. Communication disability is now seen as a disability in its own right. It’s really important that we’re addressing it. 

KL: If someone like me wanted to improve my communication right now, what would you recommend?

BH: You could contact a speech pathologist. Speech Pathology Australia has a search section on their website so people can find someone close by. A speech pathologist can point you in that direction to treat any of those communication issues you might be having. We need more students, particularly in the Western Sydney and Blue Mountains, regional and rural areas, to take it up as a profession. We can only meet the need of people with communication issues if we have enough staff. There’s definitely a huge need. If we advocate for communication rights those who don’t have that will be able to get it.

Images from Speech Pathology Australia’s digital campaign kit. Photos: Speech Pathology Australia.

For more information about speech pathology in Australia, visit the Speech Pathology Australia website.

An audio version of the interview is available on Mixcloud, while a video version is available on YouTube.

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.