From under the COVID-19 doona I wonder… will ‘normal’ mean inclusive?

Are you flinging the COVID-19 doona off quickly, sliding one toe out or pulling it up over your head? Whatever your approach, we are all laying here wondering how our lives might change as we fold the doona and put it away.
18 May 2020

Are you flinging the COVID-19 doona off quickly, sliding one toe out or pulling it up over your head? Whatever your approach, we are all laying here wondering how our lives might change as we fold the doona and put it away.

For people with disability, the impacts have been felt hard, with increasing isolation, changes to support services and lack of access to food, being just some of the issues.

But there have been positive impacts on inclusion of people with disability in our community. These changes are not new, with some businesses already doing them or using technology that has been available for years. The difference now is that they are seen as being necessary for everyone to stay healthy, connected and part of a recovering economy. Not just for a ‘minority’, even though almost 1 in 5 Australians identify as having a disability.

Here are some ways we are a more inclusive community due to COVID-19:

Online technology - Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Google, YouTube; everyone is using them to stay connected, get products and services, earn an income and have fun in isolation. Venues and tourist attractions are giving us unprecedented, inside access online. Livestream concerts at Sydney Opera House, join online book clubs, catch-up with friends on Zoom after work and watch the tigers live on Taronga TV. Not only can we get a glimpse into experiences that are often inaccessible but we can work out what is possible for the future.

Delivery of goods and services - I had moments of anxiety as people were panic buying and supermarkets suspended deliveries. Then I realised, I knew the local businesses that would deliver and how to contact them through the Better Access Map. A friend invited me to join the Facebook group, Central Coast Deliver to Me and I saw hundreds of local, small businesses rapidly adapting to offer takeaway and delivery of a range of products. Whether they knew it or not, the group administrators had eased the anxiety of people with disability and businesses had become more inclusive for a market with a disposable income of more than $54 million. Rules around signing for packages and groceries were gone, almost overnight, making it simpler for people who are blind. Businesses are now asking customers to ‘DM’ them, making service easier for people who are deaf. Businesses who thought inclusion meant construction (and sometimes it can) now realise it can be smaller changes.

Health services are being provided via phone and video calls. The rapid uptake of Telehealth has given people with disability ease of access to GPs. I no longer have to spend $35 in taxi fares to get a prescription; the GP emails it directly to the chemist who then delivers to me. Online and phone mental health services have also been boosted as people struggle with isolation, particularly if home is not a safe place. For those who are inclined to exercise, you can access online yoga classes, personal training or participate in The Push-Up Challenge by Headspace.

Flexible work practices - how often have office based workers been told that their jobs cannot be done from home, we have to work somewhere between 8am and 5pm and we need a driver’s licence to mostly sit there? It is this thinking that has contributed to an unemployment rate of 10.3%, compared to 4.6% for people without disability. Once COVID-19 came, offices were packed up within days and people started working from home, varying their hours to suit their family needs. As for the driver’s licence, if staff have been able to do most of their normal duties from home in the last few months, then they probably don’t need one. Flexible work is not possible for every employer and employee, even those with a disability, but isn’t it worth having a conversation with each other and thinking outside the office walls.

Accessible information - Never have we seen Auslan interpreters at press conferences like in the past few months. Deaf Australians can now watch ABC NEWS’s Sunday 6pm bulletin in Auslan. People with intellectual and cognitive disability have more access to numerous Easy English resources about COVID-19, hand hygiene and social distancing.

As we return to ‘normal’ is it ok to hope that some changes stick around? To be normal is to go backwards, be less innovative, to be…well, boring. We should work towards, not only recovery, but a more inclusive, thriving community than before.

Even before COVID-19, Accessible tourism, domestic and inbound, contributed more to Australia’s visitor economy than Chinese tourists visiting Australia. So, without overseas visitors coming, maybe it’s time for café’s, shops, hotels or tourist attraction’s to be more inclusive. I know I can’t wait to get out from under the doona and visit them!


Ainslie Whitburn
Project Officer Better Access Map