Peak Body Demands Action to Stop NDIS Leaving Aboriginal People Behind
5 September 2017 at 8:37 am
The NSW peak body for Aboriginal children and families is advocating for urgent action to stop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “being left behind” by the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Following the recent milestone of engaging 100,000 participants in the scheme, AbSec has raised concerns that only 5 per cent of that number were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, despite being 70 per cent more likely to experience disability than the general population.
They claim the figures were even more pronounced for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 14 and younger, who are more than twice as likely to have a disability as other children.
The organisation is now calling for long-term funding for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, to equip them to provide disability services to their local communities.
AbSec senior project officer for sector capacity Mick Scarcella told Pro Bono News there were a number of reasons Aboriginal people were not engaging with the scheme, which needed to be addressed.
“In Aboriginal communities, ‘people who are different’ are looked after by family with the minimum of fuss, they do not see them as disabled,” Scarcella said.
“For example, little Johnny in a wheelchair wants to play at the beach, the local kids being family and friends will pick him up in his wheelchair and throw him into the water with the wheelchair so they can all play together. They see him as Little Johnny in the wheelchair, not Johnny with a disability.
“The other reasons for the low engagement comes to trust issues of government agencies and injustices of the past.
“Access to services is an issue as well. Many Aboriginal people have never accessed disability services because there is none in their local area.”
Scarcella, who said the figures quoted erred “on the conservative side” due to undiagnosed cases and lack of engagement, said it was important Aboriginal people had Aboriginal-run services to turn to.
“It has proven repeatedly that self-determination works in the Aboriginal Community,” he said.
“Aboriginal people need to be listened to and become part of the solution and not be told what their problem is and how to fix it, by people who have no idea of the significant cultural differences and family dynamics Aboriginal people have.
“Establishing a system that enables people to recruit family members needs more discussion as well. The way family members rally around a person with disability and focus on their positives instead of believing they are a burden to society is something mainstream Australia can learn from us.”
He said while a commitment to tailored Aboriginal services already existed in the NDIA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Strategy, the reality on the ground showed “little reflection” to the strategy.
“All of these reports are being generated and are coming back showing all of this information we already knew but very little is being done to reflect the report findings and address the recommendations,” he said.
“One of these reports, without mentioning any names, is a 17-page document and the word Aboriginal or Indigenous is not even mentioned in it at all, not once which is very alarming, considering the fact of the low engagement so far to date with the Aboriginal communities.
“We need transparency and accountability for measurable outcomes not token promises and feel good gestures.”
AbSec project support officer Brian Edwards, who is an NDIS participant himself, having lost his eyesight after developing a brain tumour at just 18 years of age, said it was “not acceptable” that those who needed the NDIS most were “benefiting from it the least”.
“Aboriginal people experience disability differently to other Australians,” Edwards said.
“There’s no word meaning ‘disability’ in our languages – it’s not a widely recognised concept in our culture. So there’s a bit of a communication barrier from the start.”
He said said lifting the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing the NDIS was “absolutely vital” to closing the gap in health and wellbeing.
“The NDIS is being billed as a revolution in social services – but its impact can’t be truly revolutionary unless all of us are on-board,” he said.