Australians with disability are an 'at risk' population during the COVID-19 pandemic because many have underlying illnesses or immunocompromised conditions and are at greater risk of infection than the general population and are more likely to experience more severe outcomes. Many people with disability, such as those with complex needs, require personal support that puts them in close contact with other people in circumstances that make it impossible to physically distance. Often, disability support workers provide support to more than one person with disability, or also support older people, increasing the chance of workers becoming infected and passing the infection on to people they support.
In June 2020, the Royal Commission announced that it would hold a public hearing to examine the experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This hearing took place from 18 to 21 August 2020 in Sydney.
The evidence presented addressed the profound impact of the pandemic on the health, safety and wellbeing of many people with disability. Witnesses spoke of the sudden loss of support services essential to daily life; a lack of access to basic necessities such as food and medications; and uncertainty about the prospects for survival in the face of prolonged disruptions to essential care and support.
This report does not summarise the evidence heard over four days at public hearing 5 - nor does it make factual findings in relation to the experiences of individual witnesses or members of their families. This is because the focus of the report is on the experiences of people with disability during the pandemic and the Australian government’s responses (or failures to respond) that directly affected people with disability.