According to the Australian Network on Disability, one in five Australians have some form of disability, a total of 4.4 million people. Among the disabled, 1.9 million are over age 65, and nearly 36% of Australian households have one or more disabled family members.

These are large numbers and it’s difficult to survey everyone to discover exactly how they’re coping with COVID-19. Staying busy and receiving home supports are a major concern, as the overwhelming majority of Australians with disabilities, 95.7%, live at home.

In addition, Australia now has an official COVID-19 response for people with disabilities and their families. Professor Anne Kavanaugh, the Academic Director of the Melbourne Disability Institute at the University of Melbourne reported that the government’s COVID-19 plan for people with disabilities offers welcome news. Part of the plan gives consideration to exemptions from social isolation for disabled and older Australians. Health officials continue to work on ways to safely support disabled adults, their families, and carers.

Many Australians with disabilities of all ages participate in supported day programs. Australians with disabilities also receive assistance from family and friends. With COVID-19 restrictions, how can they continue to receive support? People are resilient and have developed creative ways to cope with the crisis. A new term, “socially distant support,” has been coined, indicating that in-home care support and aged care supports are still available, although changed.

Virtual support services help disabled adults

For those who attended supportive day programs before the crisis, staying at home is essential to stay safe. Therapy Care, a program for disabled adults in Sydney, moved many of its supportive services online. The program offers video chats between participants who ordinarily, would have been together in their supportive day program. Support workers help participants to set up computers and use Microsoft Teams to see and speak with friends, family, and carers. The program is a good example of the type of disability home supports Western Sydney residents can access.

Tanuj Singh, who attended Therapy Care’s day workshops before the crisis, said, “I haven’t missed any day program … It’s good in a way, because you stay connected.” Mr. Singh and others in the program benefit from virtual day outings, for example, to Taronga Zoo. They speak each morning via conference calls. The things the group ordinarily did before the crisis are continuing with a slight twist: gardening, cooking, and artwork now take place at home. Carers from the program deliver supplies to each person’s home for their daily activities.

Programs using virtual support services can enable disabled adults to stay connected even while they must be isolated at home to prevent risk of infection.

Investigate assistive technology

If you’re living with a disabled adult or older adult who needs assistance, you can investigate assistive technology. Providers have always been ready to help, but the COVID-19 crisis has emphasised how important and beneficial technology can be. In addition to Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, and Facebook Live, many other types of assistive technology are available to help disabled adults and their families.

Also called AT, Assistive Technology comes in many forms to meet many needs. Computer software and devices help people to use computers who may have cognitive, sensory, or physical impairment. A gooseneck tablet stand can help people with limited mobility to see and use a tablet computer. Vision Boards can help those with visual impairments to use a keyboard and type. Large trackballs can help those with arthritis to control computers. Other aids for the computer and internet include:

  • Software for word prediction/speaking
  • Screen reading software for visually impaired or those who can’t read
  • Mouth sticks and head pointers
  • Speech recognition software
  • Touch screen monitors

AT also helps with clocks and timers to help remind people of daily living activities, from mealtimes to medication. Book holders and audio programs help people to read and use books. Telehealth has been widely adopted throughout the COVID-19 crisis, assisting carers and disabled people to receive health care and advice. See-and-speak programs allow people with difficulty speaking to communicate using visual images which translate to spoken language.

Some disabled adults may soon return to training, work, and day programs in phases

The Jigsaw program of Fighting Chance disability organisation created an at-home version of its work program which enabled participants to continue to develop workplace skills while staying safe at home. Jigsaw participants, who normally do document scanning and preparation in their daily work, continued to work on developing their communication and workplace skills three hours a day, three days a week.

Fighting Chance is working on a transition back to some in-person work and training. The organisation plans to follow the Government’s phased re-opening guidance, allowing some participants to return to work, workshops, or social support groups beginning May 18. A few participants will be able to return to work using social distancing and safety guidelines. The majority will remain at home and continue to participate in at-home, computer-facilitated work and training. Participant’s will be carefully transitioned back into the workspace in lines with Government Three Phase guidelines.

How can carers receive respite with stay-at-home orders?

Although restrictions may ease, allowing some activities to resume with proper safety procedures, many carers will have had no respite throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The NDIS has offered guidance for in-home and community-based care throughout the crisis. Using proper safeguards, carers can receive help with the following services:

  • Meal delivery
  • Care for the home
  • Respite care
  • Transportation as needed

With some services set to reopen in phases, adjusting to new schedules can also be challenging. One lesson learned throughout the crisis is that families can receive disability care while at home using technology. If you have not already looked into the ways that your disabled loved one can continue to be connected and engaged using technology, now is the time to start.

Being connected doesn’t just mean using a computer. Disabled adults can learn new ways to engage meaningfully with others using assistive technology. From video chats to learning new skills, creative approaches can turn disabilities into abilities. Making a few modifications at home and looking into mobility aids may also make things easier.

365 Care is able to help with all of these needs and support you and your loved one through the COVID-19 crisis and recovery.


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