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Disability inquiry on COVID-19 impact

People with disability, their families and advocates are expected to testify before a royal commission about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability will hold public hearings next week on the impact of COVID-19 and its associated restrictions.

It will hear from about 40 people with disability, their families, advocates and experts as well as government representatives.

Among them are those who have encountered months of isolation and rising fear, poor communication or mixed messages from authorities, as well as the inability to access protective equipment and basic supplies as they deal with their ongoing issues during the pandemic.

Evidence will be heard from a woman who is an accomplished professional in her field and a mother of one whose disability means she is unable to speak or move and has been on a ventilator since 2018, a commission spokesperson said.

Other witnesses include the mother of a teenage girl with Down syndrome whose school excluded her from online classes and tried to have her assessed as more severely disabled to gain greater funding.

The hearing will focus on the response of the federal government to the pandemic. The commission will look at the responses of state governments in a future hearing.

Soon after the pandemic began the commission heard through submissions and calls to its hotline that people with disability were experiencing serious threats to their well-being.

In March it issued a statement of concern.

It called on Australian governments to ensure responses to COVID-19 included dedicated strategies and took all necessary measures to protect and support people with disability. This should include ensuring appropriate guidance, support and funding to meet the particular needs and requirements of people with disability.

The four-day hearing starts on Tuesday and will be live-streamed on the Royal Commission website.

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