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People with disability at much greater risk of neglect during emergencies

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Royal Commission) has published its Overview of responses to the Emergency planning and response issues paper.

The overview summarises what we have been told in response to the Emergency planning and response issues paper. The Royal Commission heard about the experiences of people with disability during bushfires, floods and other natural disasters. Many responses focused on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the disability community. The Royal Commission has dealt with this comprehensively in its Public Hearing Report 5.

Responses to the issues paper recognised that people with disability are at much greater risk of neglect during emergencies, and may suffer increased abuse, domestic violence, isolation and restrictive practices. Respondents identified a number of factors that contribute to violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability during emergencies. These included:

  • Government responses that overlook the disability community
  • barriers to services and supports
  • inaccessible information and communications
  • social isolation
  • lack of safeguards and oversight.

The Royal Commission was told about the double disadvantage faced by some people with disability in accessing information and communications during the pandemic.

Responses to the issues paper recognised that children and young people with disability and their families experienced exacerbated ‘distress and uncertainty’ due to a lack of targeted information.

We were told about the scarcity of culturally appropriate and accessible information for First Nations people with disability. Respondents highlighted the multiple barriers faced by culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability due to an absence of translated and culturally appropriate information. Some communities also had limited access to digital technologies.

Respondents have recommended that in future governments include people with disability across all levels of emergency planning and response; information accessibility and messaging is made a priority; and proper mechanisms are created to facilitate complaints and oversight opportunities and provide better safeguards.

The responses will inform the Royal Commission’s ongoing work.