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Disability community demands inclusive plan for COVID future

13 July 2022 at 5:16 pm
Danielle Kutchel
Advocates are calling on the government to stop leaving people with disability behind and create a safer, more secure future for them in a COVID world.

Danielle Kutchel | 13 July 2022 at 5:16 pm


Disability community demands inclusive plan for COVID future
13 July 2022 at 5:16 pm

Advocates are calling on the government to stop leaving people with disability behind and create a safer, more secure future for them in a COVID world.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over.

Despite the large gatherings, the maskless faces and the huddles of people which may point to the contrary, the disease is still raging around Australia.

And while that continues, many people with disability face a form of indefinite lockdown – unable to leave their houses for fear of catching a virus that could kill them.

“People have experienced a lot of fear, illness, isolation and neglect,” explained Dominic Golding, policy officer at National Ethnic Disability Alliance.

“COVID has had a really big impact on where we feel secure and safe.”

The National Ethnic Disability Alliance, along with Australia’s seven other national disability peak organisations, has endorsed a COVID-19 Recovery Plan for people with disability that would see their needs taken into account in decision making as the pandemic rolls on.

What the plan asks for

The plan covers a number of policy and social areas, including health, accessible information, education and employment, disadvantage and poverty, COVID-19 in segregated and institutional settings, and the Disability Royal Commission.

Among other things, the plan asks governments to:

  • Establish a dedicated disability unit in the Department of Health to review the COVID-19 response for people with disability, coordinate and develop a COVID-19 safety plan for people with disability, and establish supports for people with long COVID-19. 
  • Ensure First People’s health facilities are provided with resources to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19, and staffed appropriately. 
  • Provide mental health support for people with disability (increase to Mental Health Treatment Plan number of sessions) to address impacts of long isolation in particular.
  • Provide free, available and priority access to PPE and RATs and PCR tests.  
  • Develop guidelines about accessible information for people with disability in emergencies, including COVID-19, co-designed with people with disability from diverse backgrounds.
  • Provide timely information in Easy Read format.
  • Use community radio and translated materials in simple language for critical public health messaging.
  • Mandate COVID-19 emergency planning for all disability service providers. • Mandate disability supports continuing when COVID-19 occurs. 
  • Conduct a NDIS Quality and Safeguards inquiry into restrictive practices use in disability services during COVID-19. 
  • Introduce NDIS funding for people with disability to do individual emergency planning, including for COVID-19. 
  • Develop a National Inclusive Education Strategy to ensure the wrongs of the pandemic are never repeated and ensure rights to inclusive education are enacted. 
  • Ensure students with disability can continue to access education  remotely if they request it.
  • Address existing disadvantages and poverty for people with disability, including lifting the rate of the Disability Support Pension immediately.
  • Address the housing crisis for First People with disability, particularly in rural and remote communities, and supply communities with access to clean running water where there is none, as a matter of urgency.  
  • Provide financial aid for international students with disability, or an extension of their time of study or visas, without cost.  
  • Ensure emergency accommodation, and domestic and family violence services are accessible and equipped to support women and girls with disability, especially during pandemic circumstances.
  • Provide specific resources to manage COVID-19 outbreaks without relying on increased restrictive practices, including in prisons.
  • Urgently resource disability organisations to connect with and support people with disability who live alone and who have had to isolate for long periods of time, particularly through funding culturally relevant and appropriate organisations for First People with disability, migrant and refugee people with disability, and people with disability who live in congregate settings.
  • Improve and publish data about COVID-19 experiences and deaths for all people with disability, including people not receiving NDIS supports. 
  • Conduct a culturally and linguistically diverse public hearing,  hear safe, supported and advocated individual submissions, and examine the full extent of the pandemic’s impact on culturally and linguistically diverse, migrant and refugee, and emerging communities of people with disability. 

Why the plan is needed

Golding said the plan was sorely needed, with people with disability seeking more certainty from the government around issues like vaccines and provision of adequate services during the pandemic.

Opportunities had been missed since COVID hit Australia; for example, he said it had “been noted that translation of information into factsheets around COVID and vaccinations have been very mixed from state to state, territory to territory and national government”.

There were some positive ventures, like disability-friendly vaccination hubs. And in Victoria, multicultural organisations joined together to discuss health responses to COVID, he added.

But overall the response had been “spotty”.

However, Golding said community leaders had done “good, proactive… work” over the pandemic, ensuring that important COVID-related information was translated into required languages or into plain language and then disseminated into the communities that needed it.

The plan was originally written prior to the election, and Golding said the new Federal government had acknowledged that it needed to do more to encourage the wider community to take up third and fourth booster shots.

Golding said that people with disability want the government to acknowledge the harm that has been done to the disability community.

“Those with disability are still lagging behind the mainstream community,” he said.

“There needs to be a blueprint on how to deal with our future.”

Inclusive decision making is key

Golding said while state and federal governments were engaging with disability peak bodies at a high level, he believes there needs to be “more channelling” of people with disability, taking into account their different needs and ways of communicating.

“People with disability have long been treated as second class citizens and we’ve seen that with the vaccine rollout eight months ago,” he said.

He wants to see governments and health services better coordinate messaging around mitigations like mask wearing and getting boosted.

“Governments at a state, local and federal level need to bring everyone along equally. Unfortunately, we’ve still got the same groupings of those who are more vulnerable over other people who are less vulnerable, therefore the health responses have still been problematic.

“We need to think about, what does a post-COVID reality look like? We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting.

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