AS one of Queensland’s largest service providers to people with a disability, Centacare welcomes the increased focus on the wellbeing of people with a disability reflected in the latest measures announced by the Queensland Government to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
For the first time, people with a disability have been explicitly included in measures announced on August 22, along with members of the aged care community.
Centacare’s Specialist Supports lead Rachael Cleary said the new measures, which included limiting visitors to disability accommodation facilities and mandating the use of a face mask for essential visitors, recognised the need to protect people with a disability, which make up 18.3 per cent of Queensland’s population.
“Previous government measures focused solely on the elderly, which overlooks the significant number of people living with disability who are also highly vulnerable,” Ms Cleary said.
“As a community we have experienced unprecedented change and major interruption to our daily lives.
“As you can imagine, the challenges are particularly pronounced for people with complex needs and limited social understanding.
“Not only are people with a disability at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, they may be disproportionately impacted due to serious disruptions to the services they rely on.”
Centacare supports almost 2,000 Queenslanders with a disability, many of whom have complex needs.
Services are delivered in homes, Supported Independent Living and short-term accommodation environments, in the community and through its large number of community centres.
Centacare recognised early on the need to help its clients understand and come to terms with the restrictions brought about by COVID-19.
In March, the Specialist Supports team introduced a series of accessible resources or “social stories”, which communicate complex information using clear, easy-to-understand language, structured headings, large print and visuals, photos and symbols.
Social stories can be used by families, carers and Centacare’s own support workers and can be tailored for use by clients that have few language skills or are non-verbal.
“In the first instance the social stories focused on explaining the facts about COVID-19 and ways to stay safe, including easy-to-understand information on handwashing and social distancing,” Ms Cleary said.
“With this understanding in place, we moved onto creating resources that help clients manage their emotions and adjust to changes in their environment.
“For many of our clients, daily routine is everything. When something as small as a weekly trip to the shops is suddenly taken away, it can lead to very strong feelings of confusion, angst and even anger.
“Our work with clients has focused on helping them understand and adjust to changes in their routine by encouraging flexibility and acceptance and creating opportunities to learn new things and socialise in different ways.
“One of our most effective tools has been a ‘visual schedule’, which supports clients to develop new daily and weekly routines. Our support workers encourage clients to cut and paste images from activity sheets to create their own visual strategies and mood boards.
“Together they might brainstorm and create a list of new things the client would like to try, alternate ways they can connect with their family and friends and ‘calming’ activities that they can draw on to help manage their own emotions.
“The activity sheets encourage clients to share their thoughts and feelings about COVID-19 with their families and support workers, provides a space for them to record questions they might have and directs them to where they can seek further information and support.”
Recently, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability held a public hearing to examine the experiences of people with disability during COVID-19.
The Commission examined feedback from people with a disability, their families, advocates and experts about what can be done to improve the safety and wellbeing of people with disability during emergencies like the pandemic.
The responses so far, cover a range of issues including accessibility of information, safeguarding and oversight practices, access to services and supports and the impacts of restrictions throughout the pandemic on people with disability.
Ms Cleary said Centacare acknowledged how important visitors were for people with a disability and the potentially negative impact the new measures would have on those that were often already isolated.
“We certainly hope that these restrictions are temporary and from experience in others states this approach does seem to provide the strongest protection,” Ms Cleary said.