People with disability have been overlooked by the Australian Government’s response to COVID-19, according to UNSW Canberra researcher Professor Helen Dickinson.

Professor Dickinson, who is also a Chief Investigator with the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health, said people with disability are a vulnerable population in the coronavirus pandemic because they are at an elevated risk due to underlying health conditions.

“There is a need for action at the highest levels of government, across the National Disability Insurance Agency and National Quality and Safeguards Commission to prevent the deaths of people with disability in the coming weeks and months,” Professor Dickinson said.

While the Australian Government has a targeted response for the aged care sector, Professor Dickinson said this is not the case for the disability sector.

“Both sectors have many similarities including congregated settings, a precariously employed and inadequately trained care workforce, and families and carers who may face significant challenges meeting the care needs of people with disability in Australia,” Professor Dickinson said.

“This is frightening because the health sector is under-prepared to meet the urgent health care needs of people with disability and the disability service sector will not be able to meet the care needs of people with disability.”

The Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health has recommended that Federal and State governments take immediate steps to rapidly scale up the health care sector’s capacity to care for people with disability and increase the capacity of the disability care workforce to respond to the pandemic and its consequences.

The steps include ensuring information and testing clinics are accessible and providing sufficient support for people with disability, particularly if they are quarantined.

“The government must ensure that disability services stay open, otherwise the lives of people with disabilities are at risk,” Professor Dickinson said.

Professor Dickinson said many sectors are facing resource challenges during this difficult time, but appropriate resources within the disability sector are a matter of life or death. She said that this has already been a reality in a number of countries around the world.

“A real issue is that people with disability are, unfortunately, not always a priority group and at a time when so many different groups are clamouring for attention, they may lose out again,” Professor Dickinson said.

“Although COVID-19 will have a worse impact on people with disability than much of the rest of the population, many of these deaths will be preventable unless urgent action is taken.”

The Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health has published the full list of recommendations on its website.


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