Using technology to combat physical isolation

Using technology to combat physical isolation
Posted on Mon 11 May 2020

A Disability Support Practitioner with a resident 

Written by Teigan Butchers

For people with disability who participate in our lifestyle program and live in our supported accommodation homes, the impact of social distancing has been very disruptive. 

Some residents understand what the coronavirus pandemic is, the requirement for isolation and the rotation in support staff. But the majority of our residents don’t understand the pandemic or what’s going on and why their daily routines have changed.  

Community social isolation rules can be quite confusing for residents. They are being asked to practice social distancing, yet they simultaneously need support with mealtimes, mobility and personal care, which means people are still in close proximity to each other. 

For those who have intellectual impairment and Autism Spectrum Disorder, they need a structured routine to help them manage and regulate their emotions. Maintaining ‘Positive Behaviour Support’ and wellbeing at home when their routines have been disrupted is a big challenge for the staff and increases the risk of outbursts.  

Our residents living with cerebral palsy are at a high risk, so our rules for visitation are similar to Aged Care facilities. This has increased the stress and burden on families who cannot see their loved ones in their homes.  

In a nutshell, we have a vulnerable population who may or may not understand what is happening and the risk and we are trying to create as much structure and routine as possible in a crazy situation.  

To ease the burden of social isolation, we have been using technology to connect residents with their friends and families and provide online programs in the group homes. This includes yoga, exercise classes, music concerts and trivia so we can build social connection and a shared experience among the residents.  

Last week, we had our first online social catch up with fifteen people from seven of our Northern Sydney houses on the call. These residents hadn’t seen each other in over five weeks, since our centres shut down. Some had never used video calling before. 

We had two very good friends Margaret* and Wendy* connect virtually for the first time. The staff brought the camera’s right to their faces. Margaret called Wendy’s name and Wendy, who is non-verbal, was so surprised and thrilled. The look on her face was amazing!  

I also virtually connected with another resident, John* who lives in our Liverpool home. He has cerebral palsy and non-verbal, and we both share a love of motor sport. I shared my screen and put on the latest Supercars All Stars eSeries. It was John’s first-time experiencing e-racing.  

ING recently funded the purchase of eighty Samsung tablets for our group homes. When I heard the news, I was pretty excited.  

It’s going to really change the lives of so many people, not just during lockdown, but into the future as well.  

Technology makes the world smaller for people with disability. We have all been missing the feeling of community and connection, and people with disability have been affected in the same way as everyone else. I hope this experience has made it clear - people with disability need the same easy access to technology as the general population so they can also connect with their families and friends. 

If you would like to know more about corporate partnerships, please contact Tracey Jordan at 


 Teigan Butchers works in the Lifestyles Team as the Manager for Program Innovation. 

The Royal Australian Mint has developed a new $1-coin, designed to be given to charity 

Researchers from Flinders University are conducting a study on online literacy instruction for children with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome aged 6-12 years. Are you able to help?