The potential impact of coronavirus on those with a disability has led peak body People With Disability Australia (PWDA) calling for people with a disability to be included in the management of the outbreak.
The virus, called COVID-19, can move from person to person through viral droplets in the air and has caused a wave of panic among Australians. There are currently 126 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, including 3 deaths.
Jeff Smith, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PWDA says, “People with disability need to be included at every stage of this public health crisis, so that we can manage our risk of catching the virus, and make sure we can keep getting the supports we need.
“We call on the Federal Government to urgently update the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel coronavirus COVID-19 to include the needs of people with disability. People with disability must have a place at the table when talking about how we respond to this emergency.”
Mr Smith adds, “The private and community sectors should work with people with disability to ensure their plans are fully inclusive as well.”
Coronavirus has the potential to be more severe in older people and those with pre-existing conditions including heart and lung illnesses, chronic illness, and diabetes.
The Australian Department of Health says there is also a concern for people with an immunosuppressive illness or who are immunosuppressed because of treatment.
People living with a disability who fit in these categories will be at higher risk of contracting coronavirus.
Ross Joyce, CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) says that the impact of coronavirus on the delivery of services to those with a disability may be significant.
“You have people that require supports on a daily basis and the potential there is that you end up with a workforce that is unable to provide it due to the fact that they may have contracted the virus [or suspect they have contracted the virus],
“The issues are really about the levels of support for people with a disability and how that can be maintained. How we can ensure that people with disability are provided supports by service providers.” he adds.
According to Mr Smith, one way to limit the impact on service delivery is to ensure that there are plans put in place.
“For people with disability with NDIS plans, we need contingencies in place to ensure that essential supports continue, such has been outlined for older people,
“For the other 90% of people with disability, we need to ensure that the mainstream health system is accessible, and that we receive equal treatment to non-disabled people.” Mr Smith adds.
Stimulus package and telehealth
As a part of the coronavirus response, the Federal Government has announced a number of measures including funding for telehealth consultations and funding for a new stimulus package.
In an announcement made this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced an economic stimulus package that includes those on a Disability Support Pension (DSP) and Newstart Allowance to help the economy as Australia deals with the coronavirus outbreak.
Households eligible for a benefit payment will receive a stimulus bonus of $750. The bonus will be paid out from March 31.
Preparing and staying informed
Staying informed about coronavirus is essential to help people with a disability understand what is happening with the virus, as well as symptoms and measures they may need to take.
Mr Smith says that people with disability need to be able to access information, so they know when and how to protect themselves.
“All communications about COVID-19, including the new national campaign, must be accessible to people with disability. We need to see Easy Read material widely available, as well as Auslan and captions used in all emergency broadcasts.
“People with disability need to know what to do if their support workers are sick, or need to self-isolate, as well as how to access extra support if they need to remain at home. In addition, disability support workers need to have access to sick leave if they are exposed to the virus,” Mr Smith adds.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme National and Quality and Safeguard Commission (NQSC) is providing regular advice to Registered NDIS providers on coronavirus and how they can prepare.
NQSC has advised providers to review practices and advice to staff to “prepare for implementing activities that will continue to provide critical supports and services to participants while reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
Mr Joyce says that organisations are already taking measures to ensure the safety of their workforce and the people they are responsible for.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has postponed community forums in northern Tasmania due to concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
The Commission was scheduled to visit Burnie and Launceston next week for a series of community forums and information sessions.
Participants, families and carers can contact the NDIS Contact Centre on 1800 800 110 to receive information about any changes to service delivery.
The Australian Government Department of Health says that the most important things people living with a disability can do to protect themselves are:
Avoiding contact with anyone who is visibly unwell.
Observing good cough and sneezing etiquette by using disposable tissues and if necessary coughing and sneezing into the crook of their elbow if possible. If a person living with a disability cannot manage their mucous membrane secretions, carers need to be informed and ensure mucous membranes are managed to reduce exposure to others.
Observing proper hand hygiene by washing hands with soap and water or if necessary, using alcohol-based hand rub.
Acquiring information about coronavirus and working out a plan (or seeking assistance from a carer) to manage with coronavirus.
How are you preparing yourself for coronavirus? Tell us in the comments below.