A lack of specialist support services has meant Australians of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds struggle to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme, advocates say.
Migrants and refugees with disabilities are facing additional barriers to accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme due to a lack of specialised assistance for people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.
A representative of AMPARO Advocacy, a not-for-profit organisation that advocates on behalf of CALD Australians with a disability in Queensland, told the Brisbane hearing on Tuesday that multicultural communities were struggling to access disability support due to a lack of assistance during the planning process, confusing language and difficulties in obtaining an interpreter.
"There is a need for funding to assist people from with a CALD background with disability access the NDIS and effectively navigate its pathway," Manager of AMPARO Advocacy Maureen Fordyce said in a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
"It is imperative that the NDIS develop and implement targeted access and equity measures to address current barriers in the system as a matter of priority, to increase participation levels."
People of CALD backgrounds make up 8.4 per cent of NDIS recipients, despite estimates suggesting the number should be closer to 20 per cent.
One of the issues identified in the submission was that information regarding NDIS planning meetings had been translated into some languages but not those spoken in new and emerging communities.
Some people seeking services had also received "little or no access to education in their countries of origin" and struggled to understand their own language, Ms Fordyce said.
"Without direct support to explain information in these documents they are of little value," the submission read.
The Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme is currently reviewing the implementation, performance and governance of the NDIS.
The inquiry also heard that bureaucratic language, long waiting times and a general lack of knowledge of disabilities by government staff were creating serious problems.
Disability advocate Kirsten Deane, from Every Australian Counts, came close to tears as she gave evidence, noting the $4.6 billion federal government underspend on the scheme.
"We don't find anything to celebrate in the underspend at all, that is money that is desperately needed," Ms Deane told committee members.
The government blames the funding disparity on a slower than expected uptake but Ms Deane puts it down to approval delays, long waits for services, and inappropriate plans which means people aren't spending the money allocated.
Ms Deane said there was an increasing worry that the system was becoming "dual-track", with people from indigenous, ethnic or lower-socio economic backgrounds unable to navigate the system.
"If we don't do something ... we're going to end up entrenching disadvantage," Ms Deane said.
Deaf Services told the committee hearing impaired people were being told to watch YouTube videos to learn sign language, and faced barriers accessing basic forms because it meant picking up the phone.
Michelle Crozier said her clients were being told by insurance planners that they had never met a deaf person, reducing confidence they would get an appropriate plan.
Representatives from the AEIOU Foundation, an early intervention group for children with autism, said staff helping dole out NDIS plans needed to be better listeners and more empathetic.
The committee heard social workers, counsellors or therapists would be better placed to help people access the scheme.
Parliamentary hearings will continue in Sydney and Brisbane on Wednesday. Submissions are also currently open for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.