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Providers of Disability Services Are Going Online To Help Their Clients Feel More Connected.

Thousands of Australians with disabilities rely on supported day programmes to socialise and get out of the house, but social distancing limitations imposed by the coronavirus have made this nearly impossible.

Providers of disability services have been pushed to cancel these services, leaving many people without a way to communicate with the outside world or adapt.

COVID-19 is expected to have substantial consequences for a large number of people with impairments or chronic diseases, necessitating the need for socially distant care.

Smith, a resident of Western Sydney, has cerebral palsy and attends a group day programme many times a week. Participants acquire new skills, such as cooking and woodworking, and go on social outings as part of the programme.

However, since his provider, Therapy Care, shifted a number of their services online, he’s been catching up with pals and learning new skills via video chat.

“I would have liked to get out, but I can’t get out anyplace right now because of the pandemic,” he said from his home, where his support worker helped him set up a computer and IT team.

“I haven’t missed a single daytime programme… In some ways, it’s beneficial because you’re always connected.”

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Most days throughout the outbreak, Mr Smith communicates digitally with caretakers and other members of his group.

He has a morning conference call with the group, where everyone updates each other on what they’ve been up to, before moving on to sponsored hobbies like art, cooking, and gardening, with supplies supplied to his house.

“The other time we went to Animal Zoo, we saw the lions, elephants, and meerkats,” he explained, detailing a virtual tour of the zoo. “After that, we drew the animals.”

Karlie Scurr, a social and recreational specialist at Therapy Care, explained that the virtual programmes are tailored to each participant’s interests, functional capacity, and level of comfort with contact.

“With various disabilities, some of them are very fragile and susceptible to catching things like COVID-19, so it was critical that our top priority was the health of our participants and that we responded in a way that allowed us to provide services that were critical to their independence and functional capacity,” she explained.

“Participants were ecstatic to learn that we were introducing something virtual, especially for those who are enrolled in a programme five days a week; going from being entirely absorbed in services to having no services at all is a significant change.

“Maintaining those friendships and relationships is crucial.”