Rosemary Kayess lives with a disability. She’s never felt more “dispensable” in society.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, overwhelmed hospitals with scarce resources were forced to triage their treatments and prioritise sick patients over… other sick patients. 

In countries including Italy and Spain, some patients missed out on potentially life-changing critical care because of these triage systems. 

So what does this actually mean? According to Rosemary Kayess, associate director of the Disability Innovation Institute at the University of NSW, it means the lives of people with disabilities were valued as less than others. 

On Monday evening, the disability advocate spoke of this inhumane approach while on ABC's Q&A panel. 

"We'd started the pandemic … saying, 'Look, for most people it's just going to be a mild flu … it's really only a concern for the people with pre-existing conditions, and the elderly,'" she said.


"And that sort of started the concept that we're just the collateral damage.

"There were examples from various countries where they were just singling out diagnostic groups, not based on any clinical analysis, just diagnostic groups were being listed that wouldn't receive critical care," she explained.

"My life wasn't valued, and I was dispensable.”

Kayess went on to reflect on her meaningful life, before adding that the pandemic provided a rude revelation for her. 

“I had this illusion that I thought I was doing a pretty good job with my life — working, I own my home, I love my family and I've got friends — and thought I was contributing, but when it came down to it, I was dispensable.

"I was not one of the 'real' people, and, yeah, it hit me in the face."

Kayess emphasised that she was not alone in her feelings.  

"You speak to anybody with a disability, when that triage stuff was happening," she said. "And how do you think older people feel?”


"Older people are really only ending up in aged care systems because of their impairments., and so from the word go it's been reinforced to them — they're the collateral damage."

There have been more than 600 aged care residents who have died from coronavirus in Australia alone.

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The conversation was part of a broader discussion on "the age of loneliness" in relation to technology and the pandemic. 

Social researcher Hugh Mackay explained: "We humans, like many other species on the planet, are essentially social beings, we’re herd animals, we absolutely need each other. We’re hopeless in isolation. We congregate, we form families, neighbourhoods, workplaces, choirs, football teams et cetera, that’s the kind of people we are."

Even before the pandemic forced millions to confine themselves to their own four walls, loneliness was expected to be Australia’s next public health epidemic. 

You can watch the full episode of Q&A here.

Feature image: ABC.

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