23 Apr 2022

Govt poorly supported disabled people in Omicron outbreak - inquiry

5:22 pm on 23 April 2022

The New Zealand Disability Support Network says disabled people were forgotten about in the Covid-19 response, after a Human Rights Commission inquiry found their wellbeing was put at risk.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero launched the inquiry on 11 March into the support of disabled people during the Omicron outbreak using the commission's powers under the Human Rights Act 1993.

The urgent inquiry found responses to the spread of Omicron caused considerable stress and confusion for disabled people.

New Zealand Disability Support Network chief executive Peter Reynolds said the report showed communication through the pandemic was lacking, while Covid-19 vaccinations and personal protective equipment (PPE) were hard to access.

He said access to resources should have been a priority for the at-risk population like they were in Australia, where vaccinations and PPE were freely available to disabled people from the outset.

There were several recommendations in the report, including that the government work in partnership with disabled people in all their planning, improve information about Covid-19 so it was easier to find and set up a 24/7 service for when support people were sick or unavailable.

Reynolds said while the group supported the report's recommendations, there was a missed opportunity to engage with disability support providers on how to best implement them.

"We think it's important that everybody concerned should be around the table in order to identify how these things can best be achieved and the report is silent on the role of providers in that mix."

The communication issue was one that had frustrated the support network, its members and disabled people themselves.

"Not knowing whether the [vaccine] mandate included or excluded disability support workers when first announced and being given four working days to implement it was just silly.

"That led to an extension but the process of engagement to get to that point, in our view was unnecessary."

He said if disability support providers were around the table from the outset, it would have saved the Ministry of Health the embarassment of having to change the rules.

Reynolds said there was an opportunity now to get the relevant people together and make proactive changes.

"Covid is not going anywhere, anytime soon, it's going to stick around in one form or another, there's going to be opportunities for those sorts of recommendations to be put in place and therefore to improve the experience that disabled people have under that sort of environment."

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