Canberra woman Sarah Yahya has told a royal commission 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."
Meanwhile, the commission was also told of a deaf and blind woman with dementia who was left in the dark about what was happening when her aged care facility banned visitors for six weeks due to COVID-19.
Known as Fiona*, the woman in her 60s received daily visits from the Deaf Society, whose staff could communicate with her until the facility where she lived blocked visitors. There was also a ban on outings and meeting with other people.
Leonie Jackson from the Deaf Society told the royal commission the group lobbied to be able to visit Fiona for 30 minutes a day, wearing personal protective equipment and following protocols, to be able to communicate with her.
"But the aged care facility um-ed and ah-ed about this, so for six weeks Fiona had no idea what was occurring and what the pandemic meant," Ms Jackson said through an interpreter.
After six weeks of no communication, and no awareness about why visits and outings had stopped, Ms Jackson said the Deaf Society was finally able to visit.
"It was very clear at this stage her mental health had suffered serious decline due to six weeks of no communication," she said.
Ms Jackson described her own experience of trying to get her children tested for coronavirus, faced with a hospital where everyone was wearing a mask, meaning she wasn't able to lip-read.
The doctor agreed to put a face-shield on if Ms Jackson and her children wore masks, but that left Ms Jackson unable to communicate with her children.
"Completely deflated by this experience, it was awful."