Culture is key to First Nations people’s disability support

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To receive the best disability support your services must be suited to your needs, and for many diverse groups those needs involve cultural considerations.

Key points

  • Getting culturally appropriate disability support is important and can lift your wellbeing, as well as improve your overall health
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and other community providers may offer the right services for you
  • Advocacy organisations are also working to help you understand the rights you are entitled to and to help you access the services you need

For First Nations people, using services which are culturally appropriate can improve the support you receive, holistically address your needs and increase your health and wellbeing.

Aunty June Riemer, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of First Peoples Disability Network, says that First Nations people with disability see themselves as a cultural person first and foremost, which is why it is so important to have culturally accessible support.

“Their connection to community and country is paramount to their health, wellbeing and the acknowledgement of their individual language and on country protocols,” she says.

“When a First Nations person with disability has the acknowledgement of their cultural ways embedded in any communication or service they receive, they cannot feel shamed or misunderstood and more readily accept a service which can change their life.”

You may also be able to get help to have information translated into a language other than English, if your first language is an Indigenous language and you are more comfortable receiving information in your first language.

How to find a service provider

There is no nation-wide official accreditation for disability service providers who support First Nations people.

While Aunty June says an accreditation system is long overdue, she explains that the best way for First Nations people with disability to find a service or find out what supports they can access, is through one-on-one communication in a way which suits their “style of understanding”.

“Or it can be by having access to a centre or hub that is not judgemental, where all are welcome to share information and knowledge. Where people have time to learn at their own pace,” she says.

It is important to choose a service provider which understands individuals and how a person’s culture is part of their life.

“There are huge differences across the geographics of Australia in regards to how First Nations people with disability live and participate, whether it be rural or remote areas. There can be some similarities but language, skin groups, men/womens business, traditional country (freshwater, salt water, desert) all play a part in how First Nations people participate in their community,” Aunty June says.

“Who and when they can engage with people, seasonal considerations, lore business is all part of the individual and how they are seen in a community context.”

A service provider with cultural awareness of these differences will be beneficial for First Nations people with disability.

The other factor to look for in a service provider is whether they allow time to get to know clients and understand their identity.

“You need to give time to engage and hear people’s stories of who they are and where they are from, no two First Nations people are the same, same as no two disabilities are the same, we are all unique individuals with some commonality,” says Aunty June.

A good place to start looking for services which are culturally appropriate for you is by contacting your local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO), if there is one in your area.

Across Australia there are almost 150 ACCHOs, which run more than 300 culturally appropriate clinics for healthcare.

Some ACCHOs offer National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) registered disability support services, or they may be able to suggest other service providers in your area which have an understanding of your culture and identity.

ACCHOs were set up by communities and are also run by management boards elected by the community, ensuring that services suit not only the physical, health, social and emotional needs of local people, but also are understanding of the local culture.

A map of the locations of these organisations can be found here.

Another service you may be able to access is State and Territory Government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Disability Services Officers, who specifically provide support to First Nations people living in Supported Independent Living environments.

These staff provide personal care assistance, support to build and maintain independence and interpersonal relationships, and help with community inclusion, all informed by cultural knowledge and training.

Disability Services Officers are not available everywhere though, so this may not be the best option for you depending on what State or Territory you live in.

Other not-for-profit and private service providers which cater for First Nations people – both as registered and non-registered NDIS providers – can be found by searching the Disability Support Guide directory.

If you already have a provider or are considering using a new provider which is not part of any of the options above, you could ask them what cultural awareness training their staff have undertaken and whether they would be willing to do further training to make sure they understand you and your culture.

Also consider which staff will be delivering your services, as you may not always have the same support workers, and ask how the provider will make sure that you always have culturally appropriate support.

Language translation services

If the language you are most comfortable with is not English, it may help you to have information relating to your disability or medical condition, or the kinds of supports and services you need, translated into your first language.

The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) can connect you to an interpreter if you live in the eastern States or South Australia, they can be contacted via email [email protected] or phone on 1300 557 470.

If you live in Western Australia there is Aboriginal Interpreting WA, which you can contact on 1800 330 331 or at [email protected].

In the Northern Territory you can contact the Aboriginal Interpreter Service on 1800 334 944 or at [email protected].
For Deaf First Nations people who use Indigenous sign language there unfortunately is very little support for translation, but you may find help on the Iltyem-iltyem website, particularly if you are from Central and Northern Australia.

Advocacy organisations

Advocacy organisations can help you to decide if a service provider is right for you, make sure that all of your rights including cultural rights are being upheld, and support you to ask for more services or to change services.

The peak organisation advocating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability is the First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN).

Training for disability support workers about a First Nations perspective can also be provided by FPDN.

There are similar State and Territory based advocacy organisations which can be contacted through their websites:

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission also has some resources for First Nations people about what the NDIS is, what service providers are required to do and how to make a complaint.

What else do you want to know about disability support services for First Nations people? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:
Rural disability support – where you can find help
Getting disability support in a language you can understand