By any measure Australia’s First Peoples with disabilities are among some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia today. This is because they often face discrimination based on their Aboriginality and/or disability. Meeting the needs of First Peoples with disabilities is one of the most urgent and critical social justice issues in Australia today.
Yet despite the many unmet needs, the situation for the vast majority of First Peoples with disability remains largely unknown to the wider community. In the experience of the First Peoples Disability Network, we say that the majority of First Peoples with disabilities live in poverty. They also lack access to disability appropriate housing. Many young Aboriginal people with disability cannot attend school or can only participate in a very limited way because their local school can’t accommodate their disability. And we have the extraordinary ongoing situation of the indefinite detention of First Peoples with disabilities in Australian prisons, particularly in the Northern Territory. The human rights situation and the violations experienced by many First Peoples with disabilities are often deeply disturbing. The disability royal commission is likely to expose, often for the very first time, the serious abuse and neglect of First Peoples with disability.
Regrettably with the advent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme we have seen a predictable path which has seen many First Peoples with disabilities either miss out or getting seriously under-resourced plans. This continues to occur because there is effectively no meaningful advocacy support for First Peoples with disabilities to access the NDIS. We at the FPDN predicted this would happen because sadly we are all too familiar with how the system rarely prioritises or understands the sometimes unique needs of First Peoples with disabilities. We have documented this for a decade, and other First Peoples with disability prior have done so too, articulating a clear way forward to address the needs of First Peoples with disability.
At FPDN we have long observed that the disability system is upside down in many ways. The voices of people with disability including First Peoples with disability are often superseded by the voices of the service system or the bureaucracy. We are concerned that the NDIS is becoming increasingly medicalised, requiring individuals with disability to prove their disability and to get more and more medical assessments. This approach is proving a very significant barrier for many First Peoples with disabilities, especially for those living in regional and remote Australia because of costs associated with such assessments. It can be very difficult to access specialists for assessments outside of the country’s cities. This medicalised approach is in conflict with the sentiment and the human rights approach to disability that is supposed to be the driving force behind the scheme itself.
We need a truly social model of disability approach that addresses functional impairment as opposed to a heavily labelled approach that seeks to approach a person’s disability based upon deficit that will in our view only further disenfranchise First People with disability and all Australians with disability.
At FPDN we say we are the thought leaders on inclusion. We know this because in traditional language there was and is no word for disability. This is a wonderful thing in our communities – we have always been “come as you are”. Evidence gathered from Lake Mungo has recently discovered a single footprint of what is believed to have been a male who was using a stick to assist with his running. This is compelling evidence that shows we have always known that disability is part of the human experience. However, we are continuing to butt up against a system that requires people with disability to accept labels that we say are fundamentally about deficit. We know that most Australians with disability share our world view that we must reject the medical model of disability, continue to advocate for the social model of disability but move to the model we propose that of a culture of inclusion.
Because we predicted as far back as 2013, when the NDIS was first established, that First Peoples with disability would be regrettably likely left behind we developed a 10-point plan for the successful implementation of the NDIS in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Some six years later we state again our plan to meet the needs of our people with disability.
• Damian Griffis is a descendant of the Worimi people of the Manning Valley in NSW. He is CEO of the First Peoples Disability Network. In 2014, he won the Tony Fitzgerald (Community Individual) Memorial Award at the Australian Human Rights Awards
Credit: Source link