The shift to online for disability services during COVID-19

Posted 4 years ago by Rebecca St Clair
 “Moving services online is an important way to ensure that people with disability can continue to get the essential supports they need.” (Source: Shutterstock)
“Moving services online is an important way to ensure that people with disability can continue to get the essential supports they need.” (Source: Shutterstock)

COVID-19 measures are changing the way that service providers are delivering support to people with a disability in order to ensure the safety of their clients and workforce.  

Local Area Coordinators (LAC’s) now offer support for NDIS participants over the phone, via email or through a webchat, including for planning or plan review meetings.

Other organisations are having to come up with alternative ways to ensure they are able to deliver services and have implemented methods to support their clients either virtually or over the phone. 

Western Australian provider SMP Lifeskills is one of many disability support organisations that has had to rethink the way they provide support during the outbreak of COVID-19. 

Despite the uncertainty during COVID-19 people with a disability are still looking for and needing support, says CEO of SMP Lifeskills, Darren Munday. 

“With it being such an uncertain time, you could understand everyone locking their doors and bunkering down. However, the number of clients and families that have continued to access our services has demonstrated that SMP [is] both an essential and trusted part of their lives.”

Maintaining support for their clients has meant SMP Lifeskills has had to utilise online services and other creative ideas, while focusing on keeping people safe, adhering to social distancing requirements and ensuring that clients, family and staff know that there are open communication lines to discuss any concerns and to answer questions. 

Mr Munday says, “Being a leading provider of group supports, that meant restructuring all services to a [one on one] model and then being creative with the type of activities that we have undertaken with clients.

“Our Senior Support Workers lead the way with coming up with a list of 100 activity ideas that our clients could enjoy given the restrictions in place.”

It’s this creativity that CEO of Aged and Disability Advocacy (ADA) Australia, Geoff Rowe says disability support providers need during COVID-19 to make sure they are still able to deliver support online or over the phone. 

“It’s not a one size fits all. I think we have seen some service providers doing some really fabulous work and others are struggling to do that.

“It is a time when services need to be really creative about how we provide support in the COVID-19 world rather than saying ‘this is too hard’, or ‘we are not allowed to do it that way’, therefore there is no other way.”

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of People with Disability Australia (PWDA), Jeff Smith, says, “Moving services online is an important way to ensure that people with disability can continue to get the essential supports [they] need.” 

Mr Smith says it’s crucial that the use of phone and video tools are accessible for people with disability to ensure that they are not left out from receiving the support they need.

He adds, “Providers and LACs must ensure that all people with disability can still access their services during this crisis. We encourage the use of text messaging, captions, Auslan interpreters, audio descriptions and other accessible communications while moving online.

Mr Rowe agrees with concerns about accessing disability support services saying ADA has received calls about people not being able to access support services during COVID-19 and that they are concerned about this. 

“There is a significant cohort out there that we are concerned about.

“One of [the people we are supporting who is] in one of our larger regional cities is homeless, and he is having enormous trouble accessing services.

“The advice more broadly from Government is that we should be avoiding contact with people, but when you can’t support someone or access that person it becomes incredibly difficult.”

COVID-19 is not only changing the way that disability services are able to provide support to those who need them, but there is also concern about the impact of loneliness and social isolation in the community as well as the impact on mental health during the shift away from in-person communication. 

General Manager Local Area Coordination for Feros Care, Jo Hayes, says, “It is hard for a lot of people not having that contact but that’s for everybody as well I think. In terms of isolation and loneliness, that is one of our biggest concerns at the moment.”

To help limit the impact, Ms Hayes says it is about reaching out in the community to offer support and staying connected. 

“So for us making sure we have that connection, and that we’re reaching out, not just amongst our team and our participants but the wider community as well and that is very important for us because psychosocial participants are quite a high percentage of our [clients].”

You can learn more about COVID-19 and Disability Support by visiting our dedicated information page.

What challenges are you facing during COVID-19? Tell us in the comments below or send an email to [email protected].