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Governments urged to prioritise Victorians with disability during second COVID wave

Disability groups say a holistic plan is urgently needed to protect Victorians with a disability during the state’s extended lockdown period, and prevent a deadly outbreak from occurring in group homes.

A coalition of 16 disability groups has signed a joint statement calling for children and adults with a disability to be a primary focus of government during the pandemic.

Advocates are concerned by the spread of infections in group homes – with 10 recently confirmed coronavirus cases in the Aruma group home in Melbourne’s north – and the major impacts on people with disability’s access to services and children’s right to education.

“As the situation in the aged care system shows, it is vital that the Commonwealth and states work together to eliminate critical gaps for people with disability during the pandemic, including children and young people,” the statement said.

“A lack of joined-up planning and response creates preventable harm and risks… and if not properly planned for these will lead to tragic outcomes.”  

The statement urges the Victorian Government to work with the federal government and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to create an urgent plan to ensure people with disability are not left behind.

Disability advocates say this plan must:

  • Guarantee Victorians with a disability can get the supports they need.

  • Urgently deliver a targeted, accessible inclusive information and communications strategy for all people with disability, in partnership with disability advocates.

  • Urgently fund and support disability workers to undertake high-quality training in infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE) management, with a particular focus on casual and insecure workers.

  • Ensure that all support workers and people with disability have full supplies of PPE.

  • Provide equivalent protections to disability support workers as what is being made available to aged care workers, so they don’t risk virus transmission or leave people without support.

  • Fund and provide individualised supports and accommodations for students with disability at home, using a service delivery platform similar to telehealth.

  • Ensure effective measures are in place to recognise and respond to violence and abuse against people with disability.

Catherine McAlpine, the CEO of Inclusion Australia, said Victoria could not risk a deadly outbreak from occurring in the disability system, as has happened in aged care.

“There are huge similarities between the aged care and disability workforces which means that similar steps need to be taken to protect people with intellectual disability during the pandemic,” McAlpine said.

The federal government has taken action recently to protect people with disability and support workers during the second wave of the pandemic.

It announced last week that National Disability Insurance Scheme participants in New South Wales and Victoria who rely on face-to-face supports will be able to use NDIS funding to buy masks and other PPE, with providers also able to claim for PPE expenses.

Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) CEO Mary Sayers told Pro Bono News the Victorian disability community was very worried by the spread of COVID-19 across the state and needed clear information.

“We must make sure that information is accessible for people with disability and their families because it’s happening at such breakneck speed,” Sayers said.

“It’s a real concern.”

Sayers added that any government disability plan needed to be holistic and look beyond addressing just health concerns – stating that this was an issue with the federal government’s plan unveiled in April.

She said areas like education must be considered, noting recent CYDA research that found many students with disability have not received adequate educational support during the crisis.

“You cannot look at disability issues in silos and look at health separate from education, separate from the NDIS, or youth justice because these areas all intersect and if the impacts are not properly planned for, we have unintended consequences,” she said. A spokesperson for the Victorian government told Pro Bono News that it was working hard to ensure every Victorian with a disability has access to the care and services they need during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have [set] up a dedicated disability rapid response outbreak unit to coordinate our coronavirus response with the Commonwealth, who is the primary funder and regulator of disability services in Australia – and to supplement the role of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission,” they said.

“We are continuing to work with the Commonwealth regarding additional measures to increase protection for people with disability including infection control and sector workforce supply.” 

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