The decision by National Cabinet to allow disability support workers to skip quarantine and work when they have been exposed to COVID-19 has been labelled “unacceptable” by disability advocacy organisations.
The organisations have joined forces to demand that the Prime Minister and State and Territory leaders act urgently on their recommendations to keep people with disability safe.
The following organisations have contributed to a letter sent to Australia’s top politicians outlining their concerns about the National Cabinet’s decision and, again, calling for protections for people with disability against COVID-19:
- People with Disability Australia (PWDA)
- Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO)
- Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA)
- Inclusion Australia
- Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA)
- National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA)
- First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN)
- Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA)
The organisations say, “We are highly concerned that disability support workers and other supporters of people with disability, who are close contacts of people who have been COVID-positive, will not have to isolate for the period required of Australia's general population.
“This change means that it is now inevitable that people with an active case of COVID will be around people with disability and can pass it on. We find this unacceptable.”
As people with disability are considered medically vulnerable to the virus, the organisations have called Governments’ “let-it-rip” approach to the latest wave of the pandemic an “ableist approach that does not value the lives of people with disability”.
“While people with disability need to be assured access to essential services such as disability support and healthcare, accessing these services should not come at the expense of contracting a virus that could be life-threatening for those of us with underlying conditions,” the organisations state.
“People who do not have COVID symptoms can still have COVID. People who are COVID-negative on a RAT can still have COVID, or later develop it.
“This is why the quarantine and isolation periods we have relied on for two years – which have been so effective in controlling the spread of the virus – continue to be so important.”
Reiterating other statements and calls for action made in recent weeks, the organisations have again listed the actions they believe need to be taken to put protections in place and save lives.
The recommendations have been simplified into three clear points:
- The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Quality and Safeguards Commission (the commission) and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), must ensure continuity of support by disability support workers for people with disability. The commission must ensure individual NDIS disability support service providers develop and maintain COVID-19 emergency care plans which are urgently reviewed and updated in light of the current wave of COVID-19 cases. These plans need to be in place for NDIS participants who self-manage or have plan-managed plans.
- Australia's Governments must provide free and accessible access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially N95 or P2 face masks, oximeters, and Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs), on an ongoing basis for both people with disability, support workers and carers.
- Australia's State and Territory Governments must ensure priority access and processing of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests for people with disability, disability support workers and carers.
The letter also includes statements about other actions which should be undertaken as outlined by the Australian Council of Social Services and highlights the International Human Rights Law which Australia is signatory to, making it clear what the responsibilities of Australian Governments are in relation to valuing the lives of people with disability.
The full letter can be read here.
NDIS made more flexible but not enough to help all people with disability
Yesterday, NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds announced all NDIS participants will be able to flexibly use funding in their plans to pay for RATs, as up to this point only eligible residents living in group homes could use their funds to purchase the tests.
While the announcement may support some people with disability, PWDA President Samantha Connor says the organisation is welcoming the decision “cautiously”.
“We remain concerned that the Government is not providing additional funding for these tests, is requiring NDIS participants to source their own RATs, and to use their existing core funding,” she says.
“This funding is already allocated to pay for reasonable and necessary disability supports, including equipment and therapy. RATs should be free for all people with disability.”
Ms Connor says PWDA is also concerned that NDIS participants are being required to use their NDIS funding to pay for RATs for their support workers.
“The Federal Government should be providing rapid antigen testing and PPE to disability support workers directly rather than shifting the responsibility and cost to NDIS participants,” explains Ms Connor.
“Also, not all NDIS participants are in receipt of core funding, including children in early intervention pathways - children who are not yet able to be vaccinated.”
With only ten percent of Australians with disability able to access the NDIS, the majority of people with disability are not even able to access the flexible funding arrangements to protect themselves from COVID-19.
To demand better support for the community, Ms Connor is urging everyone to share the recommendations in the letter to Australia’s leaders with their family and friends and to get in touch with their local Member for Parliament (MP) about the issue.