Work needed to improve COVID-19 messaging for people with disability
8 February 2021 at 5:10 pm
Research is underway to increase the effectiveness of tailored COVID-19 communication for vulnerable people
Australian governments must improve their COVID-19 public health messaging to ensure people with disability receive clear information during any future outbreaks, service providers say.
There was a high level of frustration in the disability community last year at the slow response of government during the start of the pandemic, with people with disability and their families reporting feeling forgotten.
A disability royal commission report in December found that the federal government failed to make any significant effort to consult with people with disability or their representative organisations during the early stages of crisis.
Alex Sar, who is deafblind, said the communication and support from the government during the initial stages of COVID left him feeling helpless at times.
He said he found it very difficult to decipher the facts and was quite overwhelmed when trying to find clear information for the deafblind community.
“There could have been better communication. It was disappointing that the disability community was left out and wasn’t receiving the same level of attention and support as the aged care sector,” Sar said.
“For me personally, there were a lot of mixed messages, conflicting rules and I found it very confusing. As someone who is deafblind, how am I meant to know how far one metre away is when I rely on touch?”
Noting the possibility of another major COVID outbreak in the community, service provider Able Australia is calling on governments to ensure they are better prepared this time around for the unique communication needs of people with disability.
Able Australia national director of marketing and engagement Chandi Piefke told Pro Bono News that governments should learn from the communication issues that arose during the first COVID wave last year.
“One of the challenges was that the language being used was quite complex… and messages were changing on a daily basis,” Piefke said.
“So it’s not that there was any shortage of information coming out. I think it was more in the way that it was often delivered.
“I think this probably just added to the feeling of anxiety that everyone was feeling at the time.”
To help combat this issue, the federal government recently committed more than $4 million for the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to support six new COVID-19 research projects.
One of these projects is aimed at improving the effectiveness of tailored COVID-19 messages for vulnerable Australians, including people with disability.
Able Australia played a role in securing this funding, and will help with the research so tailored communication strategies for the disability community can be co-designed.
Piefke said researchers were working in partnership with providers so they can work directly with people who have a disability and understand what their specific communication needs are.
“So for example, we work very closely with the deafblind community and the challenges that they face can often be quite considerable,” she said.
“These researchers will be talking to deafblind people and understanding first-hand how exactly we can best support them and get information out to them in a way and format that they can understand.”
Piefke said she hopes this research will help the disability community be better informed and receive more targeted information during any future outbreaks.
She said it was important that a co-designed template was created to help governments communicate with vulnerable communities.
“This way, when governments have important messages they need to convey to the community, they understand how to translate that into different ways that will be better understood by the different cohorts within the community,” she said.
“Governments [must realise] that a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work.”