Supporting rurally dwelling adults with disabilities: the experiences of two organisations in Western Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic
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The University of Western Australia, Australia
The Western Australian Centre for Rural Health, Australia
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A390
Background and Objective:
The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted people with disability and people living in rural areas, worsening existing inequalities. Many people with disability in Australia are assisted by disability support workers (DSWs) and disability support organisations (DSOs), though there has been little research done on how DSWs and DSOs have been affected by COVID-19. The aim of our study was to explore the experiences of staff from two rural DSOs in a large rural town in Western Australia (WA) who supported adults with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic and determine what challenges and opportunities they faced during this time.

Eleven employees from two DSOs in Western Australia were recruited mid-2022 using non-random purposive sampling. Three individual and two group semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted via video-call software and reflexive thematic analysis was used in data analysis.

Four major themes were identified. The study revealed that there were difficulties with the government pandemic response, increasingly unclear work boundaries for DSWs, and a high burden of the pandemic on DSOs, though organisations and employees adapted as best they could. Participants raised concerns over a perceived lack of inclusion of the disability sector and people with disability during the pandemic.

Whilst DSOs and DSWs believe that they have been able to maintain supports for clients during the pandemic, the lack of systematic public health approach for people with disability was evident. Future pandemic response in Australia requires consultation with the disability sector, utilisation of appropriate communication channels, and improved advocacy services for people with disability