Support for vulnerable staff and communities COVID-19 – a practical guide

Australia is facing a major challenge with the onset of COVID-19. As we go through this pandemic, it is important that we support each other. For our vulnerable communities, it is vital that we provide essential aid and ensure they are looked after.

Vulnerable Communities

Vulnerable communities are often identified as people more likely to be affected by a disaster. They are more likely to be affected by a disaster than others – either from medical complications or poor policy and procedure design. In Australia when we think about COVID-19 and the challenges of social distancing, vulnerable communities include:

  • The elderly and the ageing population; 
  • People living with a disability, or with poor mental and/or physical health; 
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse communities; 
  • People living in regional and rural areas; 
  • People in poverty such as homeless or malnourished people; 
  • Pregnant women and children; 
  • People with compromised immune systems. 

Organisations are introducing new policies and procedures to help vulnerable communities and reduce negative impacts during this time. However, there is still a gap in understanding how to help people with different needs. 

As Australia’s inclusive design centre for excellence we champion Inclusive Design and we are committed to reducing disadvantage and increasing participation and possibility for everyone, especially vulnerable communities. 

Vulnerable Communities

We continue to work with companies and organisations during this testing time. There are also some measures that you can take to ensure policy and procedures are designed with vulnerable communities in mind. The following guide outlines this, with particular attention to COVID-19: 

 For staff 

  • Ensure all communication is inclusive and accessible as a minimum requirement 
  • Ensure the technology you provide your staff allows them to work in a range of settings such as at a desk, on a balcony or in a backyard. This will benefit people who do not have dedicated work areas in their homes to improve comfort and help relieve anxiety. 
  • Ensure technology is accessible – look for ways to work and collaborate for people who have different needs. For example, some collaboration tools have transcription services, others don’t.  
  • Provide staff with the necessary internal contacts to call for any issues they are or could potentially face working from home; 
  • Provide staff with contact information for mental health experts – for those who are or may find it difficult adapting to working in a closed environment such as their house.
  • Follow the Government guidelines for COVID-19 for face-to-face staff 

For customers and clients 

  • All organisations will most likely have someone who fits into the vulnerable customer definition for COVID-19. 
  • As an organisation – ask the following questions: 
    • Can our customers reach us – and what do we need to do to reach them if they can’t, especially if their immune system is compromised? 
    • Can our customers access what they need? 
    • How are we communicating with them?  
    • Given increased anxiety, is the message easy for them to understand? 
    • Are our messages accessible and produced in different ways for different groups? Many of the customer signs we are seeing are not only complex they are unreadable for people who, for example, are blind or have left their glasses at home. 
    • Do they feel safe working with or accessing us and how do we ensure they do? 
    • A simple example is to consider is that the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Community often rely on lip-reading to communicate. So, what happens if your staff need to wear masks? What will you put in place to help communication?

If you are developing an emergency response plan: 

  • Ensure first that you have the tools, equipment and support they need. 
  • Provide first responders with information on how to manage supportive equipment and access that vulnerable people may have such as ventilators or wheelchairs; 
  • Design for people who will have the most difficulty in a situation. For example, we often see with fire evacuation plans, a path that has been designed for an able-bodied person may not necessarily work for a disabled person. 

With a practical approach that includes co-design and testing with users, we ensure policies and procedures are designed to limit the exposure of vulnerable communities. During emergencies, this approach helps make customised service the standard, for now, and the future.  

Communicating Inclusively in Emergencies

This is a challenging time for all of us. In the past few months, Australia has wrestled with some serious situations. In the wake of this, Centre for Inclusive Design introduced a guideline around “Communicating inclusively in emergencies”. This is a simple resource for people to communicate inclusively in times of emergency, with particular attention on broadcast and social media. It includes links to other organisations who are also standing by to help. 

Some of the key points from the guideline include:  

  • If sending digital content, ensure it follows WCAG 2.1 this means: 
    • Ensuring alternative text is on all informative imagery  
    • Ensuring links are descriptive;
    • Ensuring buttons have been placed correctly and are accurately read out by screen readers; 
    • Ensuring your colour contrast passes standard guidelines; 
    • Creating a heading structure that makes sense and follows <h1> – <h4> levels. 
  • If you are communicating with videos: 
    • Ensure the video has captions and audio description; 
    • Provide transcripts of the audio to allow for reading of video at someone’s own pace; 
    • If you can, have an Auslan interpreter in the shot when filming – this is particularly important as Auslan is the primary language for many in the Deaf community. 
  • When writing about COVID-19 or any other major crisis: 
    • Keep sentences short; 
    • Pace information to not overload readers with too much material; 
    • Avoid using acronyms without explanations; 
    • If a word is complex, provide a meaning or context; 
    • Avoid contractions such as don’t or can’t. 

Continuous Service

Our Centre for Inclusive Design team is on hand to ensure your communications are accessible with: 

  • Content specialists to craft your crucial messages in plain English so that it is simple and easily understood; 
  • A quick turnaround with feedback on all accessible documents, including in-store, for timely and multimodal communications; 
  • Fast in-house testing should lock-downs eventuate as well as a remote option for vulnerable communities 
  • On-demand accessible communication consulting and support.

On behalf of the entire team at Centre for Inclusive Design, we are here if you need our help. 

This guide will be updated as we receive further information or feedback. Please contact us to make any suggestions or additions to this guide.