Australia is opening up. The borders are coming down. Vaccination rates are booming as we hurtle along to that 80% of population over 12 that are double dosed. By all accounts the data is showing that the Covid 19 vaccines are extraordinarily effective. With a double dose of the vaccine you are 75% less likely to catch it. If you do catch it you are not likely to get very sick and end up in hospital. Because your body has the immunity to fight the infection you are also less likely to pass on this awful disease to others. In South Australia it is expected that when the borders open 13 people may die in the first 300 days. Not much fun if you are one of those that die but put into perspective, 125 people from south Australia died from the flu from 28486 infections in 2017. So we know Covid19 vaccines work. They are not perfect but they will enable us to return to some sort of normalcy.
BUT WHAT IF YOU ARE DISABLED?
In September this year the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability released a report that found the vaccination of people with a disability and their support workers was seriously deficient. For whatever reason the vaccination rate of people with a disability is extremely low. Why? It could be for any number of reasons including:
- Lack of plain English communication explaining why vaccination is important.
- Higher rates of susceptibility to misinformation through cognitive, communication and literacy issues.
- Lack of mobility and ability to attend any number of hubs.
- Fear of the unknown and lack of support to get vaccinated.
- General lack of understanding of what is happening during this pandemic and the need to get vaccinated.
I base these few points on my own experience in working with people with disability for over 30 years. I am sure there are other reasons but I hope that these few points give the reader some sort understanding of why the vaccination rates could be lower for people with a disability. It’s quite scary, many people with a disability also have other underlying health issues that make them more susceptible to Covid19. This could be health issues related to their disability, poor hygiene, poor nutrition or simply not understanding and following rules like mask wearing and social distancing. In October the ABC TV show, QA, provided us with a harrowing statistic that in the UK, six out of 10 people that have died from Covid19 have been people who have disabilities. That is more than half of the total deaths
I am sure some of those with disabilities in this data were also elderly people. Many would be people that had acquired their disability with age and who had underlying health issues. However, it is still a horrifying statistic. Typically, governments, all over Australia, have not recognised the dangers for people with a disability until it is almost too late. It is only since the Royal Commission Report was released on September 27 that they have kicked it up a notch to try and get people with a disability vaccinated properly.
As we are all celebrating opening up there are going to be many people with a disability who cannot go out. They will be barred from entering places because, largely through no fault of their own, they are not vaccinated. Mary Mallett, CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, says the community is feeling “worried”.
“The government let down people with disability. People with disability and their families and advocates are really worried that many people are not adequately protected and will be a few months behind at least, which means they will not be able to join the rest of the NSW population in attending events, getting haircuts, going shopping, taking part in the community and society as they should be able to,”
As it always is, governments have had to be embarrassed action. The Victorian Government has allocated $5 million, I believe, to fast track the vaccination of people with a disability. Why now? They have been working towards 80% vaccination for some time now. Why did people with a disability mean so little that they and other governments had to be embarrassed by a targeted media campaign to get action happening? There is no doubt in my mind, people with a disability are a lesser kind of being, under valued and under represented.
It came as no surprise to me that people from the Deaf community, apparently, are among the lowest vaccinated in the country. The Deaf community can be incredibly open to misinformation. There are a large number of people within that struggle with English language. They are easily influenced by people who spread conspiracy theories. Many have degrees of language deprivation that makes it hard for them to see issues from different perspectives. They are vulnerable to misinformation. It actually makes me quite angry, because the people that spread this misinformation are causing great harm and contributing to possible tragedy. They should know better. I include the pro-choice people in this. The choice they make is placing others at risk. It’s your body, true, but what right do you have to risk the lives of others on a stubborn principle.
I’m sure there are other issues. Many of us deaf people are experiencing severe social anxiety as the result of masks. As a result many are avoiding situations where they must communicate with people in masks. Social anxiety is a real thing. It is not just a case of saying get over it. In an effort to overcome this issue in Victoria they have set up hubs with interpreters and officials who all sign. A great initiative! Despite this I am told that a recent Hub was attended by just 10 people in a day and only two of them were Deaf. The Deaf community in Australia is relatively small. That a large number of them are unvaccinated and at risk is scary indeed.
I wonder what will happen when the vaccination passport kicks in. The vaccination passport will mean that to enter a shop, a service, a pub or a cinema, you will have to provide proof of vaccination. I wonder what will happen when someone with cognitive or communication issues, who doesn’t understand what these passports are, tries to gain entry. The people at the door will already be stressed at having to check everyone and, more likely than not, will not have the training to deal with people with severe cognitive and communication issues. Will they remove their masks to communicate with the deaf person? Will they write notes? Will they have technology to help them communicate or strategies to patiently explain and help a person who is struggling to comprehend what is happening? More importantly, who is thinking about these issues now and what are they doing to address it? I’ve heard nothing; have you?
A lesser kind of being, that’s who we disabled people are. There is much work to be done. If governments don’t kick it up a notch it could well unfold to be a real human tragedy. Just like in Britain where six out of every ten people that died from Covid19 were people with disabilities. To the governments out there, please act fast!