Opinion | 31 March 2015

NDIS and First Peoples


By any measure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities are some of the most disadvantaged Australians, often facing multiple barriers to their meaningful participation within their own communities and the wider community.

The prevalence of disability amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is significantly higher than the general population. The Productivity Commission’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report released mid- November 2014, highlighted that almost half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population have some form of disability or long term health condition, twice the prevalence of disability experienced by other Australians.

The First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) welcomes the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and recognises its huge potential to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people greater access to disability support.

However, for it to be successful we know that it must be complemented by appropriate supports and services across a number of sectors such as education, employment, health and justice for it to be truly life-changing for people with disability. This is particularly relevant to regional and remote Aboriginal communities.

In our experience, Aboriginal people with disability and their families have accessed disability support services more by chance than by design. There is hope now that this will change but ‘closing the gap’ in access to disability supports must be a priority under the NDIS.

The FPDN welcomes the opportunities that are emerging to work with the NDIA so that the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are identified and met as the NDIS rolls out. It is important that we educate our people about the system so they know what’s available and what they might be entitled to under the scheme. It is this educative role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations are best equipped to provide to their communities.

Ten points for inclusion

In 2013, the FPDN launched a ten-point plan for the implementation of the NDIS in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Developed following extensive consultation and long-term experience advocating for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people with disabilities, it outlines key areas of importance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability. They are:

  1. Recognise that the starting point is the vast majority of Aboriginal people with disability do not self-identify as people with disability. This occurs for a range of reasons including the fact that in traditional language there was no comparable word for disability.
  2. Awareness raising via a concerted outreach approach informing Aboriginal people with disabilities, their families and communities about their rights and entitlements with a focus on direct face-to-face consultation.
  3. Establish NDIS Expert Working Group to advise on the implementation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People with disability, as well as the disability sector.
  4. Build the capacity of the non-Indigenous disability service system to meet the needs of Aboriginal people with disability in a culturally appropriate way. Culturally appropriate service delivery standards are required and disability services must be able to demonstrate their cultural competencies.
  5. Research including into the prevalence of disability in Aboriginal people and into a range other relevant matters. There remains very little research and evidence on disability in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Critically, this work must be undertaken in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities to ensure a culturally appropriate methodology.
  6. Recognise that there already exists a workforce in many Aboriginal communities that continues to do important work often informally. This work needs to valued and recognized, with the potential to create further employment opportunities in some communities.
  7. Recognise that it’s not always about services. Many communities just need more resources so that they can continue to meet the needs of their own people with disabilities. There may be perfectly appropriate ways of supporting people already in place, however what is often lacking is access to current technologies or appropriate technical aids or sufficient training for family and community members to provide the optimum level of support.
  8. Recruitment of more Aboriginal people into the disability service sector.
  9. Build the capacity of the social movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with disabilities by supporting existing networks and building new ones in addition to fostering Aboriginal leaders with disabilities. These networks play a critical role in breaking down stigma that may exist in some communities but are also the conduits for change.
  10. Aboriginal ‘launch’ sites focused upon remote, very remote, regional and urban settings. It is critical that this major reform be done right. Therefore it is appropriate to effectively trial its implementation. To this end the FPDN can readily identify key communities that would be appropriate as trial sites.

Read the full text of the ten-point-plan.

View a video summary of the ten-point-plan.

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