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As disability services adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, calls are coming to keep the changes in place

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For Michelle Payne and her two boys with autism, moving to online disability service delivery during the coronavirus pandemic has had its challenges. But it has also had its upsides as well.

“I’ve gotten an idea of what [my son Oscar] does in his therapy,” Ms Payne told SBS News.

“It’s been nice to see him in his social group, hearing him interact with other children and see how well he has been doing. That has been great.”

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Oscar, her eldest son, is 13 and lives with a mild intellectual disability in addition to autism.

But Ms Payne said the changes have not always been easy.

“He doesn’t like the change … He is wanting things to get back to normal,” she said.

But that isn’t the case for everyone.

David Moody, CEO of National Disability Services, the peak body for non-government disability service providers, said feedback from 1,200 member organisations across the country has been largely positive about the introduction of telehealth.

“Not just has this worked in terms of reducing the infection amongst people with disability … Many clients and their supporters and families are actually coming to telehealth as being a preferred model of delivery,” he told SBS News.

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“I have absolutely no doubt when it comes to service models post-pandemic, there will be changes. This is just one example of what we have learned from the pandemic, which is capable of being scaled up post-pandemic,” he said.

He said for many families and supporters of those with disabilities, the online delivery model has meant they don’t have to travel to receive services and also don’t necessarily need to have workers in their homes.

“It’s allowing providers better opportunities to educate mum and dad on how they can provide support when the provider isn’t there,” he said.

While telehealth isn’t suited to all people with disabilities, Mr Moody said having the option going into the future was important.

“Reliance on telehealth for all people with disability is unrealistic, and certainly for people with intellectual disability where they have complex needs, telehealth may not be an effective option, [but] it may also be,” he said.

“The sector is working as quickly as it can to return to a situation where the option of telehealth is available but the option of face-to-face is also available for many people with disability.”

Ms Payne she said her children were looking forward to when they can return to school and life as normal, but that experiencing services online has been a valuable experience.

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“Oscar likes the divided lines between therapy and home, school and home and that’s been blurred, [so] he will be glad to get that back,” she said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. The federal government’s coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone’s app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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