Tonight, Triple J’s Hack program delved into the experiences of people with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic and why so few of us have received the vaccine.
Among others, the program featured WWDA’s Project Officer Vanamali Hermans (Mali) and WWDA member and disability advocate, El Gibbs.
You can listen to the interview, starting at 12:06 minutes, or read the transcript below.
Imagine not being able to go for a walk within a five k radius, having to exist in your room locked away from the rest of the community. That’s essentially what disabled people in group homes are having to do because they haven’t been vaccinated.
Vanamali Hermans is a young Wiradjuri woman who works in the disability sector and has a lived experience of disability herself.
She’s really familiar with group care settings… because until she died recently, Mali’s mum had been living in one.
I still hold fear for the women she lived with, knowing that they most likely are still living in lockdown and haven’t been vaccinated.
Mali knows that… because fewer than one thousand people across Australia who live in disability care have been vaccinated for COVID.
In states like South Australia and Tasmania… the number of vaccinated residents is in the single digits – six and eight, respectively.
I’m not surprised, but I am disgusted and I am disappointed that it seems like the Govt is not valuing disabled lives at all and not recognise the ticking time bomb that is COVID if it gets into any group home in Australia.
All up… less than five percent of people in disability support homes have had the jab.
I keep thinking I can’t get more shocked by how this is going, and then I heard that figure while listening to the Royal Commission yesterday and got shocked all over again.
El Gibbs is a disability advocate and writer living in Wiradjuri country in NSW.
She said people living in disability group homes were listed as 1A on the vaccine roll out – that’s the highest priority – for a reason.
All people with disability particularly for those of us for who getting covid would be an absolute disaster, and that’s me, but there’s lots and lots of us, this year has been incredibly difficult.
People living in group homes are especially susceptible to COVID… and for many of them, the risk of contracting the virus has meant they’ve lived in a kind of continuous lockdown.
I have had the freedom to leave my house, go for a wander in the garden, do all those kinds of things. But for people living in group homes, they have not had this kind of freedom.
The vaccination rate for disability support workers is also super low… and that’s putting residents of group homes at further risk.
Low-paid disability support workers often work in multiple jobs, both with people with disability and in aged care.
We’ve got to step up the performance there, there’s no doubt about that.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted the numbers aren’t great.
While his Agriculture Minister… David Littleproud… told Radio National that people in disability care weren’t actually the government’s top priority.
FK: Is it good enough that less than 1000 people with disability in residential disability care are vaccinated at this point? Is that good enough?
DL: Yes because that’s part of the scheduled roll out.
The focus has instead been on vaccinating elderly residents in aged care homes.
There was a decision made earlier this year that people who lived in aged care would be prioritised first. But it was clear yesterday in the Royal Commission that there was no decision to communicate that to people with disability or our organisations.
The idea that we have to pit one group against another is outrageous, and I actually got really upset when I heard that this morning. It is deeply deeply unfair to say that disabled people don’t care about older people, that we want to get the vaccine instead of older people.
El and Vanamali reckon the government vaccination program should be able to handle both at-risk groups at once.
We’re a wealthy nation. There’s no need for Australia to have to compete or prioritise one section of the community over another. We have enough vaccinations, we have the fact, so what’s actually stopping us is government inaction.
They want the government to create a plan specifically on how to vaccinate people with disability… including having dedicated resources within the dept of Health… and increasing funding for disability groups.
It’s about equity and making sure that disabled people… endure the pandemic just like everybody else.