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People with disabilities and chronic conditions felt vulnerable during COVID-19 lockdown

COVID-19 image
Image: iStock

Over the last few months, we’ve been inundated with news and commentary on COVID-19 and the restrictions.

People have missed going to pubs, restaurants gyms and hair salons. I get it. It sucks. It’s inconvenient. Before the COVID-19 restrictions, I enjoyed going to the gym twice a week. It was a great social outlet for me, as well as a great way to work out.

But what if you have a serious disability or chronic health condition? For these people, the last few months have been hard. And the next few months won’t be any easier.

People with disabilities feel forgotten and vulnerable

The ABC  talked to a number of people with  disabilities and chronic conditions for an article. It exposed fears of becoming infected, nerves about the relaxing of social distancing and going without essential services.

El Gibb told the ABC that she had trouble getting shopping delivered at the start of the lockdown. This included groceries. This is not acceptable. Frankly, it’s outrageous. It’s a massive failure of both governments and businesses.

A few months ago, major supermarkets came under fire for mishandling extreme bulk buying and letting essentials run out. Many elderly and people with disabilities were forced to go without. Sure, Woolworths and other supermarkets tried dedicating an hour specifically for vulnerable people, but it was too little, too late. Many supermarkets couldn’t keep up supply.

For the last three months, people have also gone medical services for pain management. Emily went without cortisone injections during lockdown. I could only imagine how horrible that would have been.

Being vulnerable to contracting COVID-19

In all the debates over easing restrictions, one issue hasn’t been properly discussed: the protection of people with compromised immune systems.

It has left people with some disabilities nervous to enter public life. Sadly, isolation seems like the safest option.

There’s fears that there’ll be a lax attitude on social distancing. I personally think that the more restrictions are eased, the more likely social distancing will become a thing of the past. This has caused some people to isolate even more. This is really sad. It can’t be good for people’s mental health.

It’s sadly ironic that the people that should’ve been protected from COVID-19 are the ones facing most hardship. The lockdowns should have been implemented with the care of the most vulnerable at the forefront. Disappointingly, as with many other things, they have been left out of consideration.

Note: While I’m writing this post, things have already gone backwards in Australia. Due to a number of outbreaks in Victoria, restrictions on public and private gatherings have been reintroduced. Easing on restrictions of the number of people allowed in restaurants has been wound back.

Also, Coles have announced restrictions on purchases of some essential items in Lavington, Albury, Deniliquin and across Victoria. Hopefully, things will be better handled this time.

How have you found the restrictions? How do you feel about restrictions being eased? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Categories
News Opinion/Commentary

Ann – Marie Smith’s death and attitudes towards disability

I know this story is a few weeks old now. But I still think it’s important.

Ann – Marie Smith died a degrading death in early April. Smith, 54, who had cerebral palsy, was shamefully left to die in a cane chair.

When investigated, it was found that Smith, who lived alone, had no fresh food or even a freezer in her home. 

Her ‘support worker’ has been sacked from Integrity Care SA and  Smith’s death has been ruled as manslaughter.

Integrity Care SA has also been fined A$12,600 by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

 

I’ve been disappointed at the lack of commentary and public outrage about this. It is abhorrent.

Effects of ‘wasted money’ cut

Man in wheelchair washing dishes
Image: iStock

Since it’s rollout in 2016, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS),  has come under a lot of scrutiny. Accusations of fraud and funds being wasted came thick and fast. Andrew Bolt was a vocal critic, warning that the system would be abused and that the budget would ‘blow out’.

In 2017, Bolt accused groundskeeping companies of abusing the system. In the same post, Bolt claimed there was a ‘liberalisation’ of the definition of “developmental delay”.

Now, because of the scaremongering, the system has changed. And for the most part, it’s been for the worst. Last year, the Coalition government prided itself on getting rid of ‘wasted funds’. But it has left NDIS providers to  feel the need to chase money, often at expense of customer control and quality care.

 

How the hell did Smith only have ONE support worker when she needed seven – day – a – week care?

I think the “wasted” money shouldn’t have just been cut out of the NDIS. It should have been better allocated.

 

Is this a reflection of how we view people with disabilities?

Is this an indictment on how society views people with disabilities? For so long, people with disabilities have been ostracised and institutionalised. They are still overrepresented in unemployment statistics.

I truly think there is an attitude problem at play. People with a disability are too often treated as too hard. They are seen as helpless, yet they are MADE even more helpless.

 

NDIS chaos

I know from personal experience that since the Federal Government found ‘unused funds’ that they conveniently just cut out of the system it’s made the NDIS worse.

The NDIS is no longer about giving participants ‘choice’. It’s about keeping funds coming, in case the Government all – to – happily cuts “wasted money” out again. That’s often means keeping customers helpless or preventing much progress.

Support providers have become more money focussed. Was providing Smith just ONE support worker for a whole week a money – saving strategy? I don’t know for sure, but, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. If that’s the case, then Ann – Marie Smith won’t be the only victim. There’ll be many more in the future if things don’t change now.

That starts with the Federal Government putting money back into the NDIS and service providers being responsible for the safety and well – being of their customers.

 

Attitudes need to change

Attitudes towards people with a disability need a drastic overhaul. They are not a burden. They are not parasitic. They are people, who, for reasons often beyond their control, need extra help. They shouldn’t have to beg for it or die. Their lives have to count.

This can’t happen again.

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Opinion/Commentary

Kayla Kendrigan not the only case of violence against people with a disability

Content warning: this post mentions torture and may be triggering and upsetting for some readers. 

Kayla Kendrigan, 19, who is intellectually disabled, was kidnapped, tortured and almost murdered when she was thrown off Windsor Bridge while tied up. She feared that she would die, but miraculously survived.

Four of her former ‘friends’ received multiple charges including kidnapping and attempted murder.

The tip of the iceberg

It’s good that parts of the mainstream media have been reporting on this. Unfortunately, according to the Australian Institute for Family Studies, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey  of Disability, Ageing and Carers has failed to collect and display data on abuse against people with disabilities. States and Territory surveys have also failed to collect data that properly reports the issue. However, the attack against Kendrigan is far from an isolated incident.

Earlier this year on ABC’s series You Can’t Ask That: Sexual Abuse Survivors, it was pointed out that more than 70% of women with physical disabilities and over 90% of women with intellectual disabilities are victims of sexual violence.

Woman with Downs Syndrome
People with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence image: iStock

According to World Health Organisation, studies suggest that children with disabilities are nearly four times more likely to be victims of  physical violence and more than twice more likely to be sexually assaulted than able – bodied peers.

Adults with disabilities are 1.5 times more likely to experience violence. People with mental conditions experience violence almost five times (4.6) higher than the general population.

 

Tackling the problem

It’s obvious, at least to me, that things need to change. Not only does there need to be a condemnation of violence against people with disabilities, but discrimination needs to be condemned completely. Croner-i offers these tips for employers:

  • Avoid asking job applicants for information about their disability or health (in Australia, people with a disability usually have no legal requirement to do so)
  • Be aware of unfavourable treatment of a person with a disability or their actions (i.e. needing medication, sick days, etc) are often unlawful (certain modifications are also protected under Australia’s Disability Discrimination  Act 1992
  • Be prepared to make relevant and reasonable adjustments to help employees with disabilities
  • Be proactive in considerations in assisting employees with a disability or medical condition.
  • Consider whether there’s a need to reallocate responsibilities that go beyond a person’s ability
  • Avoid negative assumptions about people with disabilities
  • Avoid fitness, qualifications and other requirements unless they are essential for the job
  • Any job advertisements should make no mention or implication, that the job is not suitable for disabled people
  • Make sure that any health screening is properly justified
  • Employers should make sure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities for promotions, pay rises, etc.
  • Provide guidance for managers to be aware of generalised assumptions and prejudices when dealing with job applications
  • Make sure equal opportunity policy is devised and implemented and clearly states that discrimination and harassment of people with disabilities will not be tolerated.
  • Make sure managers and recruiters are knowledgeable of policies and procedures regarding equal opportunity and making reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.
  • Be aware of the country’s or state’s legal definition of disability
  • Make sure that no person with a disability is victimised if they make a complaint alleging discrimination or harassment
  • Take all complaints seriously and make sure that they are investigated and dealt with thoroughly
  • Make sure that any redundancies guidelines are followed carefully and don’t have adverse negative impacts on employees with disabilities.
  • Make sure that any data collecting regarding an employee’s disability or medical condition is only done with their full knowledge and written consent.
  • Use any data collected solely for the purpose of workplace adjustments and monitoring
  • Take necessary steps to prevent unfair treatment of employee by other staff.

This is so important. Not only does unemployment affect a person’s sense of self and overall morale, employment is an an area where too many people with disabilities face rejection and stigma.  This isn’t to condemn employers for violence, but such actions further entrench false beliefs about people with a disability, which in turn only exacerbates rates of mistreatment.

Violence against people with a disability or mental health condition needs to be reported on and addressed by society. Good on Mamamia, A Current Affair, and Channel Seven for reporting Kayla Kendrigan’s ideal and highlighting this. But a lot more needs to be done to help people with disabilities.

If you need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For emergencies, call 000. 

As always people from other countries are free to drop numbers of helplines or emergency contacts in the comment section below.