Inequality needs to be addressed for First Nations people with disability

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Posted 3 weeks ago by Rebecca St Clair

“Often people in remote areas are discriminated against because of the remoteness and services just aren’t available..." (Source: iStock)
“Often people in remote areas are discriminated against because of the remoteness and services just aren’t available..." (Source: iStock)

The Black Lives Matter movement in, and outside, Australia has once more highlighted the inequality faced by First Nations people in Australia, including those who live with disability.

Culturally appropriate services are needed to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability can receive the support they need, says First Peoples Disability Network’s (FPDN) Paul Calcott.

Mr Calcott, a Wiradjuri Elder and National Training and Resource Development Manager for FPDN, says that First Nations people with disability are doubly disadvantaged  and that the challenge of receiving appropriate support begins with identifying who in a community has a disability. 

“An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person with a disability has to be one of the most disadvantaged people in the community. You’re already living with a lot of prejudice and bias and preconceived concepts of what you’re like. You add disability as well and merge those two, and it is a very tough road to navigate in life.”

“There is no word for disability in our language, and that causes a problem because often  people with disability aren’t identified as needing extra or additional supports in the community.”

According to Mr Calcott, when these supports are offered, they can be complex to access and are often not culturally appropriate for First Nations people with disability. 

Mr Calcott says, “When the supports are offered they are very much based around the Anglo-Australian models of care and [often] won’t address or meet the cultural needs or the sorts of supports they need. 

“In community support is very different. It is not always about domestic assistance and personal care. It’s often about people not being able to participate in cultural events or even get out of the house. Because in some communities, especially remote communities, there are no footpaths, and even if someone does have a wheelchair, they are designed for urban areas.”

“[FPDN] has travelled extensively through communities throughout Australia [including] remote communities, and we often hear stories of, and witness, community members who are struggling even to get an assessment.

“Often people in remote areas are discriminated against because of the remoteness and services just aren’t available and if [services] do go out it is very much on the times that suit them and not always the best times for the person in the community.”

Mr Calcott, who is also a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) recipient, shared his experience with accessing the system and the complexities he faced trying to receive a wheelchair when an administrative error said he had already received it. 

“The length of time it took, the number of emails, the number of phone calls, and the number of people I had to speak to in order to try and get that fixed was incredible. If that had been somebody else in the community who didn’t have that confidence and experience [engaging with the system], they would have given up on the first phone call or not even disputed after the first letter and just gone without not having suitable equipment. 

“The processes are so complicated and also require you have internet access, a computer and all that. It’s a huge barrier.“

Looking to the future Mr Calcott says that a one size fits all model is not appropriate, and models need to be developed so that First Nations people with disability are able to access culturally safe services. 

“When I contacted [a service] I asked them if they were culturally safe, had they had that training? And the person said yes, all the staff are culturally safe. When the OT came out, I asked them if they did cultural awareness training, and she said no. Their interpretation of cultural awareness training, and safety, is different from what our community may feel. 

“[Culturally safe] would mean someone being aware of the actual area that they live, the community, and understanding the family structure and that person's role in the community and being able to be respectful and address that - also identifying that sometimes someone’s goal might be to maintain their connection through their community. 

“To me, I would expect someone that’s had a connection here locally would understand local protocols and that one size doesn’t fit all.

“That they don’t turn up with brochures covered in artwork that was done by someone in the western desert and them thinking the person they are talking to in a coastal area would relate to that artwork and that information.“

FPDN is currently in the process of re-developing their ten priorities to address disability inequity which aim to provide guidance on engaging with First Nations people with disability. 

These priorities, says Mr Calcott, have been adopted by some but FPDN would love to see them be made a part of an official response. 

“[The priorities] have been embraced by a lot of different people and services who see the value in that but not on an official level. They are not part of an official way of developing engagement and programs.

“It’s changing slowly, but if it had been introduced at the start [of the NDIS rollout], there wouldn’t have been all these issues now in trying to identify shortfalls and inequities in how services are provided to people.”

Royal Commission seeks to understand First Nations experience

The focus on First Nations people with disability and the FPDN initiative of redeveloping their ten priorities coincides with the latest issues paper released by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability and the Commission's call for information about the experiences of First Nations people with disability.

Data shows that a disproportionate number of First Nations people live with a disability or some form of long term health condition.

Previous studies and inquiries have found that compared to the general population, First Nations people with disability are more likely to:

  • Have experienced threats of physical violence

  • Have poorer health outcomes than other Australians with disability

  • Have experienced problems accessing health services

  • Have been removed and/or had relatives removed from their family

  • Experience high or very high levels of psychological distress

  • Be detained due to a cognitive disability, foetal alcohol syndrome or other impairment

  • Be reliant on government pensions or allowances as their main source of personal income and less likely to be studying and in jobs.

Commissioner Andrea Mason OAM is inviting First Nations people with disability, their families, communities and organisations to respond to the issues paper.

“This is an opportunity for First Nations people to share their insights and expertise with the Royal Commission.

“We want to hear about what changes are needed to support First Nations people with disability across the course of their lives and ensure they are able to live a life free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

“We know that First Nations people with disability face particular challenges in their daily lives across many settings.

“These challenges can be further compounded by multiple layers of discrimination, based on race and disability.”  

The issues paper also seeks information about programs and approaches that are working well, particularly ones that are community-based and community-driven.

As well as responding to issues papers, people can share their story with the Royal Commission in any way they want, by phone, in writing or by making an audio or video recording.

People can also register for a private session, which allows people to share their experience with a Royal Commissioner in a confidential setting. It can be in person, via video conferencing or on the phone.

So far, the Royal Commission has had more than 300 requests for private sessions, 20 of those have been from First Nation people.

Commissioner Mason says the most important task for the Royal Commission is to enable people with disability to tell their stories.

“I want to assure all First Nations people, their families, communities, advocates and organisations that this Royal Commission, is a safe place to share their stories.”

Submissions can be provided by:

• Email to [email protected]                                                                           

• Post to GPO Box 1422, BRISBANE QLD 4001

• Phone on 1800 517 199 or +61 7 3734 1900 (between 9:00am to 5:00pm AEST Monday to Friday)

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