Coronavirus virus led to isolation and alienation: Royal Commission

Canberra woman Sarah Yahya has told the Disability Royal Commission that she felt alienated, vulnerable and feared people with a disability were forced to take a back seat during the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Yahya, who is profoundly hearing impaired and relies on lipreading and facial expressions to understand speech, gave evidence to the disability royal commission on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old said she had difficulty accessing coronavirus information due to her hearing impairment, telling the commission she became distressed after reading social media comments suggesting COVID-19 was about survival of the fittest and care for disabled, chronically-ill and elderly people shouldn’t be prioritised.

“I can’t turn away from reading stuff like this,” she said. “We talk so often about making positive steps towards inclusion and accepting people but when a crisis like this happens … people with disability automatically take a back seat.

“It just makes me feel incredibly vulnerable … It makes you feel ‘what are other people thinking at the moment?’ Am I able to be open about my disability if this is what they think.”

Ms Yahya came to Australia as a refugee from Iraq when she was 13 years old and has been a disability and refugee advocate. She now works as a MediaLink reporter for Multicultural NSW where she translates news for Arabic speakers.

One positive she has taken out of the pandemic is feeling encouraged by news reporters who took off their masks in news reports.

“There has been so many fantastic news outlets who have been communicating with people who have been open about the use of live captioning, interpreting, not using masks when delivering the news and explaining to other people why they are not using the mask during that time,” Ms Yahya said.

“Since these things have been taken away with social distancing and the mask, [it has been] incredibly difficult for me to communicate with other people and that [brought] feelings of alienation.”

By Julia Kanapathippillai and Sally Whyte for The Canberra Times