The rights of people with disabilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our everyday lives upside down. Recently, its impact on people with disabilities was examined by the Royal Commission into Abuse, Violence, Exploitation and Neglect of People with Disabilities.

For many reasons, people with disabilities are among the groups most at risk in this pandemic.Their often compromised health status means they have a high risk of adverse outcomes if they get the virus; their need for personal care and support with everyday living makes it more difficult to take effective precautions such as social distancing; and, the well-documented inability of health systems to respond adequately to people with disabilities means health services will struggle to provide them with quality care during the pandemic.

People with intellectual disabilities in particular will find it difficult to understand what is happening during this time and are very susceptible to isolation and loneliness. For some, the restrictions on visitors to family or group homes, and limited access or support to use online technology, have meant little or no contact with friends and family for months.

The Royal Commission made clear that the federal government had failed to quickly recognise and respond to the greater risks of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, leaving this community disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Early emergency plans focused on older people, and not until early April was a disability advisory group or disability-specific plan put in place.

While measures such as a dedicated help line, guidance to service providers, and greater flexibility of NDIS plans are now available, it shouldn't have taken months to recognise that disability support workers are essential workers. It shouldn't have taken months to limit workers' movements between disability care homes.

And it shouldn't have taken months to ensure workers, and the people they're employed to protect, are supplied with enough personal protective equipment.

La Trobe University is a partner in an international study of 19 countries that will add to the information about COVID-19's impact on people with intellectual disabilities, their families and service providers.

Through this study we hope to bring to light some of the stories that have remained hidden. To take part in our anonymous survey, visit tinyurl.com/COVID19IDD or email me: C.bigby@latrobe.edu.au. We must learn from these stories to do better.

Originally published by Australian Community Media.

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