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Picnics, puppies and priority shopping: getting through the challenges of living in isolation as a person with disability

By Belle Owen

If you’ve read my earlier blog, you’ll know how lucky my travel companion and I were to get a flight back to Australia from the US when the COVID-19 situation escalated. But getting home safely was only the first half of the journey. The lockdown that followed has been one of the toughest times of my life, and I’m currently on day 60+ after advice from my doctor to remain in isolation as COVID-19 poses a high risk to me.

Having acted quickly, we managed to be on the last flight back to Australia before mandatory isolation began, and so could go into immediate lockdown at home, rather than a hotel under monitoring. The accessibility in my home is better than any hotel could provide, and it gave us the luxury of a bit more space and access to an outside area, which was good for my mental health.

We knew we’d be coming home to an empty fridge, so on the layover in Sydney we put in the quickest online shopping order we’ve ever thrown together and had someone wait at our place to take the delivery. Again, luck was on our side, because as we arrived home, all online orders for groceries were suspended before the introduction of priority services.

Being cut off from grocery delivery during isolation was scary, and thankfully through the grace of friends and family, we got enough supplies to easily get by. Even once registration opened for PWD to access the delivery services again, their systems glitched and I could not get approval without chasing them up with multiple emails, tweets and Facebook messages, so stress levels were high.

This was an essential service that I was shut out of, and once I finally gained approval, the relief was huge.

The mandatory isolation period due to my overseas travel meant that I had to cancel all my usual in-home support work indefinitely. I usually have someone to do the domestic tasks that I’m physically unable to, but with lockdown came the reality that to keep myself and everyone else safe, no one would be able to come or go at all.

Thankfully, my housemate can cover a lot of these things, but there are others that I have had to go without. I’ve also paused my therapy supports for now. Although the NDIS funds choice and control, in a pandemic, keeping safe and following NDIS rules means that a lot of that choice and control is unavailable to me – though I have been able to engage supports in some different, distanced ways including gardening, sourcing hard-to-get ingredients and running essential errands to help keep my life going while I’m safe at home. My Plan Manager has some tips about keeping safe while continuing to receive face-to-face supports.

The biggest struggle for me is being isolated from family, friends and my partner.

Being physically apart for milestones like my birthday, my partner’s birthday, my brother’s first pregnancy announcement and Mother’s Day has seen me rely heavily on technology for connection. Making collaborative Spotify playlists, facetiming while cooking meals together, group zoom meetings, the Netflix party chrome extension have all played a part in helping me feel a little closer to people I can’t currently be with. At the beginning of our lockdown, I had seen a dog online at the Animal Welfare League. She was a Papillon Cross – the perfect size dog I had been looking for, so I sent some friends who were able to head there quickly and adopt her for me. She’s had a difficult past, so getting to know her and bond with her (at a time that could also have been quite lonely for me) has been a rewarding way to spend the time.

When the weather allows, people have come around to have picnics outside my bedroom window which is a nice break from screens too. Living with disability has given me skills in being flexible, resourceful and adaptive so I don’t feel completely unprepared for these changing times.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking after myself and everyone around me as best I can… from a distance.

Belle Owen is a writer, consultant and disability advocate with over ten years experience living and travelling overseas. She is passionate about social justice, human rights and disability representation in popular culture.




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