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First Peoples Disability Network calls for more support for disabled Indigenous peoples

Rachael Knowles -

With disabled First Nations Peoples having a significantly high risk of serious infection from COVID-19, the First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) is calling for Federal, State and Territory Governments to deliver support to protect mob living with disability.

Preventative measures such as social distancing and self-isolation are solutions that many First Nations communities do not have the lifestyle to adhere to.

"As we know, a lot of our mobs live in overcrowded situations and have limited access to equipment and supplies day-to-day generally before this. So now they are locked into a situation where they've got less access to important needs or daily supplies," said FPDN Deputy CEO, June Riemer.

"We are hearing to self-isolate and keep to ourselves, but it just doesn't work in our communities, particularly in remote places. They don't have running water in many of these places."

First Nations Commissioner for the Disability Royal Commission, Andrea Mason, said there is a huge need for access to culturally safe and accurate information.

"In our communities, the information that has great impact, is that that is given by trusted leaders and those who are recognised as having qualifications in areas," Mason said.

"At the moment, it is really, really important that leaders in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector have all the platforms and means to get their information to their communities in an accessible way.

"In our minds, it has to be done in a way that people with all different types of disability understand this messaging."

"Many of our communities, have English as their second language, hence why we need leaders who speak the language and understand the seriousness of the situation to get these messages out through all different channels ... directly speaking to people."

FPDN is also calling for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to fast-track Aboriginal Community Connectors in First Nations communities.

"Our reasoning for fast-tracking that request is ... there will be vulnerable groups that won't have contact and will need essential products or equipment in their life. The concept of that was even if it was not face-to-face contact, it would be someone calling daily to ask, 'Are you okay?' or, 'Is there anything you need?' whether that be medication or whatsoever," Riemer said.

However, Mason said not every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person living with disability has access to the NDIS, therefore there is a more urgent need to establish broad and strong communication.

FPDN is also asking for the suspension of mutual obligation activities such as Job Active and the Community Development Programme (CDP) which see First Nations Peoples with disability attend workplaces putting them in risk of infection.

"We haven't heard any more on the ground [since putting it forward], but I assume those employment centres are still in contact with their participants, over-the-phone.

"That was a huge issue, everyone else was told to step back and self-isolate and then we had mutual obligations happening in communities where they were driving around in 12-seater buses picking up the mob. It just didn't make sense to what was being said otherwise."

FPDN has issued a joint statement with other disability advocacy groups and have pushed for those living on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) to receive access to an increased Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight.

This would be consistent with the Jobseeker Payment and other payments recently announced by the Federal Government.

"Supplies in some regions, the costs are doubled. Most people on the DSP are living on very minimal living costs, we still totally support that ... they need to be further supplemented. It needs to be ongoing," Riemer said.

In this time of panic, Riemer hopes mob will look out for one another, reach out and keep pushing for change.

"It is about the mobs supporting each other, whether that is Elders or those with disability. Just reach out and have that phone call, that's all we can do at the moment and that is what we are trying to do as a community service," Riemer said.

"The systemic issues that we have talked about for a long, long time are now coming to fruition and people are realising that. I would hope that after this is all done and dusted, new initiatives happen out on the ground and particularly, for advocacy groups."

By Rachael Knowles


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