The University of Melbourne
CRE_COVID19DisabilityPolicyResponse_.pdf (2.59 MB)

Barriers and enablers in the development of a COVID-19 policy response for people with disability in Australia

Version 3 2021-06-25, 05:08
Version 2 2021-06-23, 00:26
Version 1 2021-06-23, 00:02
online resource
posted on 2021-06-25, 05:08 authored by Celia Green, GEMMA CAREY, HELEN DICKINSON

This report explores the barriers and enablers that led to the development of the Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability, the Federal Government’s National Action Plan for protecting people with disability during the pandemic. The report provides a descriptive account of findings from interviews with key stakeholders involved in the development of the Action Plan.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians with disability were identified as a vulnerable population due to increased risk of morbidity and mortality as a result of underlying health conditions, potential exposures to multiple support workers and informal carers, and ‘social determinants of health’ impacts such as discrimination and social exclusion. Despite this, people with disability were largely ignored in the Federal Government’s initial COVID-19 policy response. Consequently, the disability sector rapidly mobilised to lobby for the Federal Government to create a disability specific policy response, which resulted in the Commonwealth Department of Health forming an Advisory Group and associated Roundtable to help inform the development of a response.

Despite an initial lack of action to protect people with disability by the Federal Government, there were a number of enablers that helped both draw policy makers attention to the issue and facilitated a relatively rapid policy response once policy makers were on board. The process of developing the COVID-19 disability policy response was seen by stakeholders as a mostly positive experience. Many members of the groups expressed a desire for the structures (Advisory Committee and Roundtable), which had been established during 2020 to continue once the immediate threat of the pandemic is over. However, it was also identified that to continue in an effective manner there would need to be a tight focus for the group(s) to avoid confusion over the purpose and direction moving forward.

While there were positive aspects to the development of the Action Plan, there were also a number of barriers identified that hindered its execution. Many of these barriers are long standing issues in the disability-health policy interface rather than new issues and these were further exacerbated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, there was positive engagement with the sector once the Advisory Committee and Roundtable were established, however fully implementing responses was more challenging due to issues such as lack of collection of data on which to base decisions and ongoing difficulties in the disability health interface.

Suggested citation

Green C, Carey G & Dickinson H (2021). Barriers and enablers in the development of the COVID-19 policy response for people with disability in Australia. Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health, The University of Melbourne.

Further information


NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health