Disability Support Work during COVID-19 – Survey Findings
Research from the University of Melbourne and UNSW Canberra has important findings on how to prevent COVID-19 transmission in the disability community.
The research report Disability Support Workers: The Forgotten Workforce in COVID-19 describes the findings from a national on-line survey of 357 disability support workers (DSWs) conducted between May and June 2020.
A follow up report from the second survey of disability support workers conducted in October 2020 can be downloaded below.
Researchers from the Disability and Health unit at the University of Melbourne and the University of NSW Canberra conducted an online survey of disability support workers about their initial experiences of COVID-19. Workers were asked about physical distancing, access to PPE, training and testing and the financial and psychological impacts during the pandemic.
Respondents ranged from 18-75, 83%were women, and 31% were over 50. Like health and aged-care workers, DSWs can’t physically distance given the close personal contact required in their job. In the week before the survey, they worked with an average of six different people with disability.
The survey also found these workers face financial hardship. Of those who took time off due to illness, only 47% were paid, reflecting the workforce’s casual nature. Thirty-four per cent faced financial difficulties like not being able to pay an electricity, gas or phone bill on time or being unable to pay their rent. The researchers have made recommendations, including updating PPE guidelines, proactively reaching out to DSWs so they can receive the required training, ensuring they have access to pandemic leave and making sure expert health staff can provide back-up if needed.
The survey reflects the situation for workers when PPE was just being made available to workers after a marked shortage in March and April. With cases now rising in Victoria, on 17 July PPE became compulsory for DSWs in hot spot areas.
“COVID-19 really emphasised in my mind how overlooked the disability sector is. At the beginning the government kept talking about health care workers and nursing homes but I never heard any mention of disability. It left us in unknown territory and felt like we had just been forgotten and weren’t as important as other workers” (Survey participant).
Wave 2 Research Findings
A follow up survey conducted in October 2020 was also conducted findings from that report can be downloaded from the side menu.
The project was funded by the Melbourne Disability Institute
The University of Melbourne.
- Report 1 – Disability Support Workers: The Forgotten Workforce in COVID-19 (Web, PDF)
- Report 2 – Disability Support Workers: Follow up findings (Wave 2): The Forgotten Workforce in COVID-19 (Web, PDF)
- Fact Sheet 1 – Keeping Support Workers Safe, July 2020 (PDF)
- Fact Sheet 2 – Financial and Psychological Impacts, July 2020 (PDF)
- Looming COVID-19 emergency in disability support homes, The Age, August 2020
- Protecting people with disability during the pandemic, Pursuit, April 2020
- The risk of COVID to people with disability, ABC Radio National, 20 August 2020