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First Peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this resource may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.


This project aimed to understand what helps, and what makes it hard for First Nations NDIS participants who are deaf or hard of hearing, to use their NDIS plans in a way that meet their needs and aspirations.


  • Overwhelmingly, participants reflected a strong desire for connection to family, community, Country, and culture. Participants wanted their engagement with the NDIS to help them maintain or enhance these connections.

  • Yarnings with participants consistently illustrated past, present and future fear of structural and systematised trauma through engagement with ‘white fella’ systems: systems which contextualise intergenerational disadvantage across so many life domains, creating mistrust of new systems. 

  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing are consistently not provided with culturally safe and accessible information or support to help understand the NDIS.

  • Access challenges often involved lack of cultural and communication supports (e.g., total communication modes), limited access to appropriate language interpreters (including signing languages) and cultural consultants to help them engage with NDIS staff and processes.

  • Even when participants have clear goals and know what they need to achieve these, it is often challenging to get and maintain appropriate plans.

  • Concerns that plans will be cut, even when they are used.

  • When appropriate cultural and communication supports were not made available, incorrect assumptions were often made about people's capabilities to ‘care’ for people with disability. Families felt pressured to engage with the NDIS, despite their lack of trust that the scheme would be of benefit.

  • Coercion to access supported independent living (SIL) off country, was a major issue for participants, particularly when these services were not culturally safe.

  • Key issues included: 
    o    Inappropriate physical and cultural environments
    o    Difficulties communicating with staff and fellow residents
    o    Experienced or feared lost connection with family, community, Country and culture
    o    Lack of trauma informed practice within SILs
    o    Exposure to violence 
    o    High turn-over of SIL arrangements/ market issues

​What worked:

  • Better engagement and outcomes were possible when the NDIS and service providers made a concerted effort to facilitate communication with participants and nurtured cultural relationships with families, cultural guardians and cultural advocates to better enable culturally supportive engagement and service provision that nurtured connections to family, community, Country and culture: i.e., ‘Proper Way’ engagement. 

  • With time and appropriate cultural and communication supports in place to help people engage with the NDIS system and its processes, a few participants were able to start utilising their NDIS plans in a way that empowered people to nurture important connections and fulfil their family and cultural obligations. 

Publication Details
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