Australians with disabilities 'sidelined' during coronavirus pandemic

People with disabilities felt snubbed by the government's coronavirus response as care systems collapsed due to health restrictions.

Advocates have discussed the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities.

Advocates have discussed the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. Source: Getty

Many Australians with disabilities have felt sidelined or ignored altogether during the coronavirus pandemic, according to advocates.

On Wednesday, representatives from the sector spoke at a public hearing for the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.

El Gibbs from People with Disability Australia said the pandemic has been an "extremely difficult and stressful time" for many people with disabilities.

"For me, all the systems that I used to live independently collapsed and disintegrated."

A crowded Sydney street.
Source: AAP

With a job and stable income, Ms Gibbs said she fared better than other people with disabilities during the crisis, but she still struggled.

"I could pay extra money to people so they could go and do things for me. I could pay extra money to rejig my disability supports ... I could do all of those things and I [still] found it incredibly difficult."

Ms Gibbs pointed to a survey People with Disability Australia conducted with more than 200 people with disabilities on their experiences during COVID-19.

"So many people with disability talked about having to make decisions between food and medication, feeling completely abandoned by everyone and feeling like they had no-one to turn to," she said.

She said the survey responses "really broke my heart".

According to Ms Gibbs' organisation, people with disabilities are twice as likely as those without disabilities to live in poverty, and nearly 50 per cent of people with disabilities live in poverty.

At the hearing, Ms Gibbs endorsed a new national advisory committee and increased access to telehealth services.

A number of issues were brought up on Wednesday including care services being limited as workers were told to stay home to prevent infecting vulnerable people.

People with disabilities also struggled to get food when panic buying took hold and many couldn't get people to take them shopping during exclusive-access hours.

Trevor Carroll from the Disability Justice Australia said some coronavirus public health communications were not accessible to his clients.

Mr Carroll said a quarter of his clientele had one or more disabilities that left them unable to communicate in writing, online or over the phone.

Social distancing requirements prevented him meeting them face-to-face.

Mr Carroll said some were forced to ask aged care workers to help them write complaints about the homes.

"I have become increasingly alarmed at the Australian government's response to the COVID pandemic and the impact on the human rights of people with disability," he said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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Published 1 July 2020 at 5:58pm