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Newer Australians missing out on NDIS assistance


Disability service providers are failing to connect with people from non-English speaking backgrounds because many are unsure of the support available or don’t know how to access it.

Around one in five Australians has a disability, and research shows a similar rate among people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

This means that in proportion to the mainstream population, around 20 per cent of those taking up the NDIS should be from CALD backgrounds, according to a Settlement Services International (SSI) policy paper. However, the figure sits at around nine per cent.

Karen Bevan

Still outside the tent: Cultural diversity and disability in a time of reform calls on the federal and state governments and the NDIA to act urgently to ensure the NDIS is reaching everyone who needs it, and to offer other forms of support for those not eligible for the national insurance scheme.

“We would like to see people with a disability from culturally diverse backgrounds accessing mainstream services at the same level as other Australians but we’re less than halfway there,” says Karen Bevan, general manager in community service delivery at SSI. “It’s very concerning.”

Failing to respond to cultural diversity

The reasons why this is occurring, she says, are complex and intercepting.

Firstly, people don’t know about the system, or they’re unsure if they’re eligible and don’t know where to get the information.

“The system relies heavily on having high levels of English language and doesn’t respond well to cultural diversity,” says Bevan.

There’s also a lack of cultural understanding. “In some of our newer communities, there’s often a high level of expectation around family support so sometimes there’s not really a language for what happens when a family is not able to care, or the person would actually like something different.”

The right information tailored to each community is crucial. In December SSI launched a national multilingual hub and website, funded by the NDIA, which offers support in 14 languages.

“A person anywhere in Australia can pick up the phone and call for information in their first language on what services and support are available in their community.”

While there are hopes the hub will improve NDIS uptake from people from CALD backgrounds, more needs to be done at the community level.

Essential programs losing funding

Yet some essential programs run by the states, such as Ability Links NSW, are at risk, with funding redistributed to the NDIA.

Ability Links ensures there are people on the ground in communities who have the skills, expertise and languages to be able to connect people with disability, their families and carers to the relevant support and services available to them, whether or not they are eligible for the NDIS.

“That kind of infrastructure is gold,” says Bevan, “The NDIA can’t do this alone, they need pathways in.”

If the necessary resources to assist those with a disability from CALD backgrounds aren’t provided, there will be unnecessary strain in other places such as in hospitals and courts, no to mention in families, says Bevan.

“We believe in the NDIS because we believe people with a disability have a right to an ordinary life,” she says. “We need to make the system right in its first years of operation, not be retro-fixing it later.”

Read more: Councils warn transition to NDIS will cost services

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