Disability groups unite in plea for targeted coronavirus support
7 April 2020 at 5:10 pm
“We haven’t heard anything about how disability and those living with disability are going to be prioritised at this moment,” disability leaders say.
Over 70 national, state and territory disability organisations have delivered an open letter to the government outlining 10 points of action to support people with disabilities amid the outbreak of COVID-19.
Despite Australians with disability being some of the most at risk from COVID-19, disability leaders said their needs have remained largely overlooked in relation to the impacts of the virus.
The open letter, delivered to the National Cabinet on Friday, said this was evidenced by the fact people with disability were rarely, if ever, mentioned in any press conference, media release or government conversation about the virus.
“The national discourse relating to coronavirus is inherently ableist – preferencing able-bodied people as the norm,” the letter said.
“This ableist discourse is resulting in the exclusion of people with disability in efforts to prevent the spread of, and address the impact of the coronavirus.”
The letter called on all Australian governments to take on 10 urgent actions that it said would protect the lives of Australians with disability in the context of COVID-19:
- Guarantee continuity of supports for all people with disability.
- Expand criteria for COVID-19 testing to include people with disability and their support persons.
- Urgently improve information and communications to be inclusive of all people with disability.
- Take measures to remove the barriers to adequate healthcare for people with disability.
- Include recipients of the Disability Support Pension (DSP) in the Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight.
- Urgently define what constitutes an “essential service” for people with disability.
- Ensure effective measures are in place to recognise and respond to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect of people with disability.
- Prevent discrimination of students with disability in the provision of education.
- Ensure the human rights of people with disability in congregate settings are upheld.
- Adequately resource Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and Disability Representative Organisations (DROs) to enable support of, and advocacy for, people with disability.
Signatories of the letter include the First People’s Disability Network Australia (FPDN), People with Disability Australia (PWDA), Blind Citizens Australia, and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations.
Romola Hollywood, PWDA head of advocacy and policy, told Pro Bono News that the letter highlighted the incredibly broad range of issues that people with disability face at the moment, and the need for governments to clarify what COVID-19 meant for accessing support in programs such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“People with disability are not on supports that can be provided one day and taken away the next… They’re actually really important for people’s health and well-being and capacity to participate in ordinary life,” Hollywood said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at particular risk
June Riemer, the CEO of FPDN, told Pro Bono News these points of action were critical, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability living in remote communities.
She said the effects of coronavirus had amplified existing issues such as the high rates of domestic violence in remote communities, overcrowding, higher costs of living in remote communities, and poor access to health services.
“Disability peaks have been talking about these issues for a long time, but now it’s all come home to roost,” she said.
Something of particular concern was the exclusion of the DSP from the federal government’s Coronavirus Supplement – a $550 increase to unemployment payments for six months.
“I was talking to someone in Tennant Creek, up in the Northern Territory, and they bought a couple of apples, a couple of oranges, and maybe three or four other things, and that came to $68,” Riemer said.
“When you’re on such a limited income, how can you fully support yourself and keep good hygiene?”
Holding onto hope
Hollywood said with government and policy announcements happening so frequently, there was hope the disability community would hear back soon.
“The minister for the NDIS has clarified food security for NDIS participants, saying that people who are NDIS participants will be prioritised in having food delivery groceries delivered, which is reassuring,” she said.
“But it’s really important that we get a strong and sound response from government as soon as possible.”