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The Indigenous Uptake of the NDIS is Low And This Must Change


Monday, 29th May 2017 at 11:09 am
Fran Connelley,
There are 250 Aboriginal languages, 560 dialects and not a single word for “disability”... so perhaps it’s not surprising that the uptake of the NDIS by Indigenous people is low, writes disability consultant Fran Connelley.


Monday, 29th May 2017
at 11:09 am
Fran Connelley,


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The Indigenous Uptake of the NDIS is Low And This Must Change
Monday, 29th May 2017 at 11:09 am

There are 250 Aboriginal languages, 560 dialects and not a single word for “disability”…  so perhaps it’s not surprising that the uptake of the NDIS by Indigenous people is low, writes disability consultant Fran Connelley.

Indigenous Australians are 1.7 times more likely to have a disability than those in the non-Indigenous population (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Put another way, that’s 70 per cent more likely  –  a number which does more to bring home the reality of this statistic.

Then there are the children. Indigenous children are 2.5 times (or 250 per cent) more likely to have a disability. These figures do not include those living with an undiagnosed disability.

It was recently explained to me by Mick Scarcella, senior project officer for The Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat NSW (AbSec), that: “If you’re a kid in a wheelchair, you’re a kid in a wheelchair. You’re not a kid with a disability.”

The fact that in all those 250 Aboriginal languages there is no word for “disability” points to a sense of community and inclusion that we have not yet achieved in mainstream Australian society.

But it also means that, if you happen to be Aboriginal, seeking support services for a family member is a huge step.

Prior to being invited by Mick to speak at a recent forum for Aboriginal service providers, I had no direct experience working with Aboriginal organisations. I’m ashamed to say, the facts around Indigenous disability were a shock to me. As a marketer I should have known the scale of this issue.

Despite the statistics, the uptake of the NDIS by Aboriginal people is low.

The importance of ensuring that culturally inclusive, Aboriginal controlled organisations become registered NDIS providers cannot be underestimated if we are to avoid widespread market failure by the NDIS within these communities.

To make things even more difficult, the costs of service provision in remote areas are not adequately covered by the modest loadings to prices in rural and remote regions (as pointed out by the National Disability Services’ excellent paper released earlier this month, How to Get the NDIS on Track).

The double whammy of the costs of service provision and the confusion around transport funding will place extreme pressure on existing providers in regional and remote communities when they come into the NDIS from July 2017. This will likely bring more closures, less choice and more isolation for those individuals and families who can’t afford to travel. It will also further widen the gap in disability support services between urban and regional markets.

AbSec has been funded by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACs) to support Aboriginal controlled organisations to become NDIS providers. Both AbSec and FACs are to be applauded for this initiative. It is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Not only does it mean that Aboriginal people may be more likely to engage with the NDIS, it also means more employment opportunities for Aboriginal people.

That brings me to the achilles heel of the NDIS: workforce capacity and supply.

We know from the 2016 Australian National Audit Office report on the Transition of the Disability Services Market that “the disability care workforce is a major risk to the NDIS rollout, which needs to be carefully monitored and managed”.

The NDIA’s own targets require a doubling of the workforce by 2020. The CEO of a large Victorian-based private provider of casual support staff to the sector told me that she believes 15 years is a more realistic timeframe.

I applaud the vision and philosophy of the NDIS. But the big thinking that created it has not been applied to its implementation. The ambitious, politically driven targets are currently undermining the promise and implementation of this reform.

For the sake of people with disabilities – and particularly those from Aboriginal communities, CALD communities and regional Australia  – we need to address the speed, the pricing, the widespread plan inconsistencies and the significant workforce issues that are currently heading the NDIS towards market failure.

July 2017 is fast approaching.

About the author: Fran Connelley, MFIA, is a strategic marketer who specialises in the not-for-profit sector. Over the last 20 years, as director of FC Marketing, she has worked with many well-known not-for-profit organisations to build their brands and diversify their revenue. Her book, How to Thrive under the NDIS – A Pathway to Sustainability for Service Providers is now in its fifth reprint. She is also founder of The NFP Accelerator Toolkit, an online platform of resources for not for profits on a tight budget launching June 2017.


Fran Connelley  |   |  @ProBonoNews

Fran Connelley is a Not for Profit marketing specialist and Director of FC Marketing.

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