Policy report

Understanding disability through the lens of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people – challenges and opportunities

Indigenous health Disability disability policy National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Australia

Representing a major change in the way supports for people living with disability are funded, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) presents both opportunities and significant challenges.
This project was developed to examine the Implementation of the NDIS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Strategy as well as interaction between National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) staff, local area co-ordinators (LACs) and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

This report also looks ar the experiences of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in accessing the NDIS, planning, and receiving disability supports through the scheme. Data sources for the project included anlaysis of exposure to unfair treatment, , exposure to violence, threats and removal from natural family, among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS). The researchers also conducted semi-structured interviews with NDIA staff, disability support providers, partner organsiations, Community Connectors, and participants in the NDIS.

Key Findings:

  • Analysis of the NATSISS suggests that across all ages groups, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people living with disabilities were more likely than other Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people to experience unfair treatment, avoid places where they have previously been treated unfairly and more likely to experience violence, threats and removal from their natural families. This suggests the importance of considering safety issues for people living with disabilities particularly in relation to engagement with the NDIS.
  • Community engagement is essential in ensuring community ‘buy-in’ for the NDIS and is recognised in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Strategy. However, in many communities the process outlined in the strategy1 was either not implemented or implemented in a manner that had little impact on community engagement. Insufficient community engagement resulted in inadequate direct engagement with participants and meant they were often surprised by the initial contact with NDIA staff and/or unclear about purpose of meeting. This contributed to confusion and a fear that the outcome of the meeting might be to cut funding or deprive participants of existing benefits.
  • A range of resources may be needed in order to address the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and needs and the diversity of disabilities. It should be noted that the NDIA has developed a number of resources which could be evaluated, modified where necessary, and disseminated locally.
  • There is a clear need to build a local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander workforce to support the implementation of the NDIS. This could increase community and participant understanding of the NDIS, improve cultural safety, strengthen links with the community and improve continuity. However, further engagement with communities may be required to improve the profile of the NDIA and ensure that it is seen as an employer that people are comfortable working with.
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