In July 2020, the Empowered Lives network developed a joint statement to outline key areas for immediate change to improve and strengthen responses to support people with disability.
The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts people facing disadvantage and marginalisation, who may not have access to the tools, resources and supports to know about, understand, prepare for, or comply with public health directives, and remain safe.
Empowered Lives members are concerned about the emerging and ongoing impact of these measures on people with disability, their families and carers, who may be more vulnerable to the virus than others, face greater challenges and impacts from restrictions, and are likely to face unavoidable economic hardship.
Real people, real experiences
The restrictions and isolation have had an increasing impact on the health and wellbeing of people with disability, their families and carers. Self-advocate Heather says:
“It is affecting my mental health. I get bored a lot of the time, I don’t go out to exercise because people are not social distancing. I have a chronic cough so it is very hard for me to know if I have the virus, and you have to have a car to get tested. I did go and have a test but it cost me a $70 taxi fare. The government needs to be aware many people with a disability don’t have cars and can’t drive.”
People with disability already experience higher rates of violence, abuse and neglect than people without disability. During the pandemic, reports of community-based abuse and discrimination are rising, including of people with disability having PPE stolen or having essential items taken from them while shopping.
During the pandemic, reports of community-based abuse and discrimination have risen.
There are also fears family and co-resident violence is likely to be increasing, however due to the restrictions, people will be forced to remain in unsafe environments and less able to seek help and connect with support services.
Self-advocate Effie is finding the isolation very difficult.
“It is awful – I can’t sleep at night, sometimes I think I will go out of my head I feel trapped in the house. It is very hard, sometimes I have good days and some days bad. Sometimes I feel the lock in is going on and on and on. I am very very bored.”
Janet, a self-advocate lives across the road from a restricted area, is not able to be as independent as she was before the pandemic, and doesn’t feel comfortable letting people into her home.
“I think with services coming in it could be a life or death situation if they had the virus. We had a cleaner but I am too scared to have a service. I have a good NDIS plan but I don’t want people coming to my home,” Janet says.
While she can go shopping, Janet feels nervous doing so and less able to do things on her own.
“When I do go to the shops I can’t go by myself, because when I do, I can’t reach some the things I want. I have to ask for help and then I am worried about people touching the item, so I have to go with my husband. That has made a big impact on me because I used to go by myself and ask my community for help before the virus. Also once the virus started, people wouldn’t help.”