Fears non-English speakers are being left behind in NDIS

It has been more than one year since the full National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) began rolling out across Australia, and less than eight per cent of the 130,455 active participants have a culturally or linguistically diverse background.

The NDIS was a major reform in how support is provided to people with a disability, but as the rollout continues across the country, the take up among the culturally and linguistically diverse community remains low.

"If people don't know about the NDIS they don't access the NDIS and that's the problem," Dwayne Cranfield, CEO of the National Disability Ethnic Alliance told SBS News.

Not-for-profit organisations have been pioneering programs aimed at spreading information about the scheme in the hope eligible applicants will make the most of what services are being offered.

Communication problems create barriers for NDIS engagement

Settlement Services International offers a program called 'FutureAbility', which provides a number of education sessions delivered in multiple languages.

"It's really important to educate CALD communities. Traditionally they missed out from access to services that were funded by governments. So traditionally they were not getting the support they needed," Georgia Zogalis, manager of FutureAbility, told SBS News.

"By not getting the support they needed, they didn't understand the disability system in Australia to the extent it was needed.

"Given that this is a scheme that talks about independence, given people with disability control over their lives and increasing their independence, it's really important they know about it."

Reform 'up there with Medicare'

The new scheme was a significant change to not only the distribution of funding but also aimed to empower those who qualified to make their own choices based on their circumstances and needs.

Access to the scheme is limited to Australian citizens and permanent residents, under the age of 65, with a significant disability.

The NDIS is a new way of supporting people with disability

As part of the process of obtaining funding, participants work with a planner to identify services - a process reviewed annually.

"It's a huge reform, it's one of the biggest reforms that we've had in Australia. It's up there with Medicare," Mr Cranfield said.

"People in the disability community are incredibly grateful for what this offers. 

"But we've got to remember it won't be without hiccups and problems and issues.

"They (the National Disability Insurance Agency) are going to be tinkering with it, we think for years to come in order to get it right."

One change that had to be made was the availability of interpreters to assist participants.

"Information got back to the NDIS that the pathway had some issues, and they've already started to make improvements to that process," Ms Zogalis said.

For many people from CALD backgrounds, this is a different way of understanding disability support.

"Once people understand it, and understand that this is additional support. A person that gets a package they forfeit the disability pension. This is addition to the disability pension. Some people of CALD communities think if they get the NDIS that they won't get the pension. That's wrong," said Ms Zogalis.

While information from the NDIA is provided in 10 languages and translation services are being offered, there must also be education in how disability is understood, according to Mr Cranfield.

"In CALD communities, you have a whole lot of religious aspects and cultural aspects and beliefs around disability. Some cultures think that some disability is punishment from God that something has happened and therefore this has been put upon them for some reason and it's something that's not discussed.

"And we often hear about families where people with disability are essentially cloistered in the family, they don't leave, they stay at home because there's a shame to it as well," he said.

"For some communities there's a real stigma around disability. And in Australia, in general it's only been in the last twenty or so years that people of disability have come out into the spotlight.

One of the biggest social reforms in Australia, but will need ‘tinkering’

The benefits of the NDIS

Thirty-one-year-old Ralph Hasna is a beneficiary of the NDIS. His disbility makes mobility difficult but has been overcome by a battery-operated accessory that attaches to his wheelchair - a device that was provided by NDIS funding.

"It basically gives yourself mobility to be able to go out in your own time," he told SBS News.

"It can take you from A-to-B. You can use it on the train station, inside shopping centres, basketball courts. So it basically gives you the freedom of not worrying about, 'oh mum, can you pick me up', 'call your dad, he'll come pick you up.' And then you call your dad and your dad will say, 'get someone else to pick you up'. So basically it gives you that freedom," he said. 

Among other daily tasks, Mr Hasna is able to attend and participate in weekend sport, where he's a mentor to young wheelchair hockey players.

According to Mr Cranfield, it is just another example of how the NDIS has been able to help improve people's lives.

"We hear amazing stories where their lives have changed very much for the better. And it's lifted their life and made a huge difference to them and their families," Mr Cranfield said.

Published 11 March 2018 at 12:52pm, updated 12 March 2018 at 9:09am
By Laurie Lawira