People with disabilities and their families are in the midst of the crisis of their lives, especially in New South Wales. On one hand, there is a pandemic raging with all the ferocity of an out of control forest fire. On the other, there is a fierce debate going on about our right to reasonable and necessary care and support, with the National Disability Insurance Agency and the Morrison Government proposing radical changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Is it any wonder the disability community is experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, fear and despair? A survey conducted by PWDA last year revealed that a massive percentage of disabled people were experiencing unprecedented uncertainty and anxiety about being supported during a pandemic. That number has escalated exponentially. Today, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian held a press conference to discuss the outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in NSW. Despite widespread community concern, the NSW Government has elected to keep businesses open. In addition, it was reported today that three NSW Ministers are advocating to “live with COVID.” That is, to let the virus rip unchecked through our community. The people who will die are now not “just” the elderly. Over 70% of our seniors have now been vaccinated. We are also talking about disabled people, our family members and those who are paid to care for us. Let us be clear. If the intention is to “let her rip” before ensuring that all of the 1a and 1b vaccine rollout groups are vaccinated, this will not be “living with COVID”. This will be eugenics against a protected group of citizens. People with disabilities will die. State premiers and chief ministers believe that we should be eliminating community transmission. If we let the virus run rampant, the cost to human life will be immeasurable. This is not an acceptable course of action in any civilised society. Our community is now the community most at risk. That includes younger people with disabilities and underlying health conditions. On Wednesday, NSW Health Minister reported that 37 people were in hospital as a result of COVID. She said that 14 were under the age of 55 and that eight people had not yet turned 35. Today it was reported that there are currently 43 COVID-19 cases admitted to the hospital, with 10 people in intensive care. Four are on ventilators. At least one of those four is a person in their twenties. We must urgently ensure that disabled people in our community, including younger disabled people, are safe. To do that, we need a clear strategy to suppress, contain and eliminate the virus, with a focus on those most clinically vulnerable and most at risk. Our federal government must immediately make a commitment to:
ensure the 1a and 1b rollout is complete at record speed, especially in residential disability settings
urgently give disabled persons access to the safest and most appropriate vaccine, regardless of their age
increase transparency in public reporting, especially around national daily statistics and weekly disability statistics
ensure that we understand how disabled people who are not NDIS participants are tracking, especially Aboriginal people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people living with homelessness and others from marginalised groups
making sure that PWDA’s 11-point plan has been activated and that a clear vaccination plan for people with disabilities, their carers and support workers is undertaken as a matter of urgency – halting the plan to implement reforms to the NDIS, especially independent assessments
ensuring disabled people have what they need to live a life where they have the same opportunities as other people, including to be safe from COVID.
We are only able to live with the virus once people with disability and our community is safe from it – that means implementing the basic measures above, as well as building national quarantine facilities and ensuring everyone has access to a safe and appropriate vaccine. Now is the time for action. Australia has a community that has always rallied around in times of crisis. Australians expect leadership in times of crisis, for every Australian. We need strong and responsible leadership right now which values the health and safety of their citizens over profit – leadership that will lead us out of danger and towards an optimistic, COVID-free future. Samantha Connor is the president of People with Disability Australia.