opinion

"For us, it's about survival." The reality for disabled Australians during COVID-19.

Uncertainty is everywhere right now, but for disabled Australians this pandemic is personal.

Facing lost income, lost support and a heightened risk of infection, we’re watching as the world is making decisions that affect us without sufficient consultation or consideration. To add to the sting, we’re seeing ableism come out in full force.

The coronavirus situation is unsettling, to say the least. As a disabled woman, I’m reading news updates scrolling through Twitter and disabled-only Facebook groups wondering which of my friends are at risk, reading messages of concern and frantic calls for help. What do we do if our support workers fall ill? How do we access our vital supports? How can we get food, toilet paper, sanitiser, and prescription medications if we’re forced to isolate or there’s nothing left?

Watch: Mamamia’s The Quicky host Claire Murphy breaks down your most answered questions about COVID-19. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

Recent support initiatives aren’t enough. As supermarkets announced the 7am shopping hour for elderly and disabled folk, I instantly felt dejected. I can’t get up that early and move safely, let alone navigate the crowd and carry supplies to the car. I’m lucky to have a family providing the essentials, but what if I didn’t? I also don’t receive the Disability Support Pension so I can’t ‘prove’ my disability. I’m thankful that Senator Jordon Steele-John’s advocacy has resulted in Woolworths’ online application system for those who require online shopping. Coles has made a similar announcement. Though the process of ‘proving’ we’re disabled is often demoralising, the reality is that one hour a day isn’t sufficient and online delivery services are vital to survival.

That’s what this is about. Survival.

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Beyond the arrangement of groceries, medicines and carers, the impact of social distancing is devastating on multiple levels. I am an artist and in the arts industry, we’ve seen performances and exhibitions cancelled en masse. I’ve personally lost three paid opportunities, and my casual work is impacted by these cancellations, too. I’m looking at three months without an income. I know many others in the same boat.


Paid opportunities for d/Deaf and disabled artists are rare to start. However hard it will be for the sector to rebuild, the barriers we face increase the difficulty tenfold. The wider arts sector is yet to mention the impact on disabled artists. Once again, we are shown that our work, our art, and our contributions aren’t recognised and our careers are less valid than those of our non-disabled peers. That’s ableism.

I’ve spent the past month applying for jobs, aware that I needed more work to balance with creative commitments. It was clear from countless rejections that flexible working arrangements were ‘impossible’. This week, I was appalled to see how quickly businesses moved to online working methods. Previously deemed ‘inappropriate’ or ‘impractical’ for years, accessible work processes are suddenly possible now that non-disabled people require them.

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We’re not going to forget this when coronavirus passes. These methods are usable; employers just didn’t want to let us use them. They didn’t want us. That’s ableism.

Where does that leave us? People With Disability Australia’s recent media release co-signed by numerous advocacy bodies calls for urgent measures to support the disability community during the pandemic. I was disappointed to see that those on the Disability Support Pension are ineligible for coronavirus stimulus payments, especially since delivery fees increase the cost of essential goods. Disabled Australians will only survive through improving the accessibility of coronavirus communications, greater commitment from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to support rapid and necessary amendments to NDIS plans and supports, and improving phone and home visit medical care options.

It’s time for everyone to pitch in and help. We can start with ensuring all COVID-19-related information and live streaming alternatives are accessible – I recommend this guide by El Gibbs – and reducing the panic buying. There’s no need to ‘stock up for the winter’. Stay home; you might feel healthy but you could still be carrying the virus and putting lives at risk. Reach out to your disabled friends and assist with contacting support workers and NDIS planners, or pick up some essentials. And if you’ve transitioned to working online, remember this as an example of what is possible, and accessible.

Though it’s a highly anxious time, I’m confident that we will all make it out of this. It just requires a team effort. Are you ready to join?

Madeleine Little is a performer, theatremaker, researcher and advocate based in Brisbane. You can find her on Twitter @notmadeleine or on Instagram @madeleinelittleRead more about Madeleine at madeleinelittle.com 

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus – How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Feature Image: Instagram / @madeleinelittle

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