People with disabilities absent in COVID-19 response

Leading health and disability researchers from the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and University of New South Wales are calling for urgent action from State and Federal governments to develop a targeted response to COVID-19 for people with disability, their families and the disability service sector.

We just need to look to China to see the consequence of a lack of planning – a 16 year-old boy died from starvation because his father, who was his main carer, was quarantined in hospital. That could happen in Australia too.


Australians with disability are a vulnerable population in the COVID-19 pandemic because they are at elevated risk of morbidity and death due to underlying health conditions, a health sector underprepared to meet the health care needs of people with disability and a disability service sector that will not be able to meet the care needs of people with disability.

The Government has had a targeted response for the Aged Care sector but we have not seen the same for the Disability Sector despite the fact that they have many similarities including congregated settings, a precariously employed and inadequately trained care workforce and families and carers who may face significant challenges meeting the care needs of people with disabilities.

We recommend that governments take immediate steps including:

Rapidly scale up the health care sectors capacity to care for people with disabilities by:

  1. Rolling out clinics that are completely accessible and that this is made clear so people with disabilities know where to go (i.e. physical accessibility, communication aides, Auslan)
  2. Rapidly train a small dedicated workforce of doctors and nurses who specifically provide services to people with disability through video conferencing/telephone/home visits/in facilities
  3. Create a dedicated hotline for people with disability, disability services and families
  4. Make all information accessible including Easy English, Auslan, large print in all community languages and disseminate this information through disability services, advocacy bodies and the National Disability Insurance Agency

Rapidly increase capacity of the disability care workforce to respond to the pandemic and its consequences. The government must ensure that disability services stay open otherwise people with disabilities lives are at risk.

  1. Rapid upskilling of disability care workforce in infection control and financial compensation for participating in training
  2. Rapidly expand the disability workforce sector drawing on students in allied health including OT, physio and social work
  3. Financial guarantees from the NDIA for services providers who may either: i. Need to rapidly scale up their operations and individual plans may not be sufficient to purchase additional services particularly in light of potential closures to schools, day services and other congregated settings. ii. Experience a decline in services if providing specialist supports including employment programs, day services, therapy are closed
  4. Like the health and aged care sectors, allow disability service sector to have priority access at no cost to personal protective equipment including masks, hand sanitisers etc
  5. Strong local coordination, potentially through Local Area Coordinators, to implement a national plan to triage disability services so that as workers become infected or become exposed to infection and need to self-isolate, the most critical services are staffed and kept open
  6. Financial compensation for casual and self-employed disability workforce (an increasing component of the sector) who need to self-isolate
  7. Compensation for family and carers of people with disability who need to take time off work to care for their loved one with disability. This could include paying family members for a strictly time limited period for support provided during normal working hours