Disability education lacking in Australia during coronavirus pandemic, royal commission hears

Education services during the coronavirus pandemic have been lacking, the disability royal commission has heard, while the number of infections among NDIS participants has been made public for the first time.

Kate Eastman, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission on Wednesday

Kate Eastman, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission on Wednesday Source: Supplied

The single mother of a NSW student with Down syndrome felt her daughter was treated like an afterthought when her high school shut due to coronavirus, a royal commission has heard.

The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, said educational resources provided by the school were cartoonish and her daughter wasn't included in online learning groups.

"At the core of this there is some deeply-rooted ableism," she told the commission on Wednesday.

"There is a view that students with disability are an add-on, a burden, that they belong somewhere else.'

"This should be turned around ... students with disabilities should be made a priority rather than an afterthought."

Advocacy group Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) surveyed 700 people from April to June about their education experiences.

About 60 per cent of respondents said students with a disability had not received adequate educational support during the pandemic.

More than 70 per cent reported students with a disability were more socially isolated than classmates.

"The overarching driver is ... an absolute absence of pandemic planning for the needs of children and young people with disability," CYDA CEO Mary Sayers told the commission.

The Year 7 student's mother said it took weeks for some teachers to send them appropriate school work.

The royal commission is examining the impact of COVID-19 on people with a disability and the federal government's response.

Ricky Buchanan, 45, has lived with multiple disabilities since her teenage years and hasn't left her Melbourne house for two decades.

She said a friend had spent nine days bed-bound eating only muesli bars while waiting for a test.

Ms Buchanan - who has chronic fatigue syndrome, is largely bed-ridden and appeared on SBS' Insight program earlier this year - was forced to set up her own coronavirus safeguards and bought personal protective equipment for carers.

She made a sign for her home to let visitors know there was someone vulnerable living inside.

After posting a picture of the sign on Facebook, Ms Buchanan was inundated with requests for something similar.

"I think they were really desperate to have something, as everyone was feeling so vulnerable," she said.

Ricky Buchanan
Source: SBS Insight

Ms Buchanan said she had been able to watch concerts and theatre online using technology which wasn't available pre-pandemic.

"Everything I've have been campaigning for, for 20 years has now been dropped in my lap," she said.

"I'm so scared they are going to go once the pandemic is over."

The commission has previously heard a federal government health plan at the beginning of the pandemic in February did not mention people with a disability and one wasn't developed until 16 April after lobbying.

129 coronavirus cases in NDIS recipients

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases among National Disability Insurance Scheme participants have been made public for the first time.

There are 129 active cases across the country, including 41 participants and 88 workers.

Almost all of the cases are in Victoria.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is confident Australia can avoid a disaster in disability services akin to the crisis in aged care.

Mr Morrison said infection rates among NDIS participants were lower than the broader community.

"There has been constant vigilance in checking on the welfare of those participants in the program," he told Melbourne radio 3AW on Wednesday.

"I think we're managing that well but it's a highly vulnerable group. We've always been aware of that."

There are about 4.4 million people with disability in Australia, of whom 2.4 million are under the age of 65.

Some 365,000 people with permanent and severe disabilities are participants in the NDIS.

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

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Published 19 August 2020 at 7:16pm
Source: AAP -SBS