• Kamilaroi and Wonnurua man Jake Briggs. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is seeking stories specifically from First Nations people with disability.
Keira Jenkins

9 Jun 2020 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 9 Jun 2020 - 10:00 AM

 Jake Briggs has been in an electric wheelchair for more than a decade. 

He's a Wonnarua and Kamilaroi man, and he's a quadraplegic.

For him, and other First Nations people with disability, he says it can be hard to navigate services and systems, while also facing a kind of 'double discrimination'.

"You've got your Aboriginality side, you've got the disability," he told NITV News

"Then there's a third sometimes - I've got colleagues who've got the disability, the Aboriginality and then if they're LGBQTI, that's in there as well.

"It becomes hard when you're dealing with the wider community or with government or with the NDIS or the private sector because before you've wheeled or walked through the door they'll have this notion in the back of their head how they're going to judge you.

"That's already sitting in the subconscious just because of intergenerational viewpoints that have been sat within Australia's fabric since the first boats arrived in 1788."

Jake started his own National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) service provider, when he realised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were 'falling through the cracks'.

"There are good things happening through the NDIS, the government and other private sectors, but there are a lot of cracks where mob have fallen through and continue to do so  - through justice, through education, through employment, through the hospital system " he said.

"There needs to be a more streamlined system to help it work for the mob and that's rural, remote or urban.

"If it's far western NSW, where I've got family and people still talk language, or you're going out to central Australia and you've got mob where English is a fourth language, and then you've got the disability on top and they might have a different way of expressing their disability and their needs - what they need culturally as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and where it reflects their disability and their needs.

"It's a tricky system."

 Jake uses his service, and his knowledge of how the NDIS works to help other First Nations people with disability to navigate these systems.

He said he's heard horror stories of services skimming money from clients' NDIS packages, and taking advantage of vulnerable people.

"From what I've seen, there's so many sharks in the water that are seeing the NDIS just seeing the dollars, there's blood in the water," he said.

"Especially for mob that have cognitive or intellectual disabilities, they just take advantage of them. I see this and it's disgusting.

"I have clients come on with me and they tell me what's been going on with their story. I hear these collective stories and I'm like 'are you serious?'

"There's been many a time I've rolled through the local NDIS office to say 'this is what's going on'.

"The government want to fit you in a box but I'm like 'no, we're out here in the grey area', it's not so black and white."

'Much work to do'

It's stories like these that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability hopes to hear in response to a new First Nations issues paper, released on Tuesday.

Commissioner Andrea Mason said the Commission has already heard stories from First Nations people with disability, like Jake, who sits on the Commission's First Nations Advisory group.

Issues of accessibility and inclusion are at the forefront of the concerns already heard, she said, as well as the overrepresentation of Indigenous people with disability in the justice system and in out of home care.

But one area Ms Mason said First Nations people with disability feel included, is culture.

"Of all the areas in society there is one area that there is inclusion, and that is inclusion in culture. Of course that makes sense because that's the core of who we are," she said.

"We're accepting of who people are in our community, but in those other areas around health, education, justice, employment, study, higher education, home environments, that question around accessibility and inclusion really sits alongside the concerns across all Australians with disability.

"There is much work to do."

Ms Mason said asking for stories specifically from First Nations people with disability is also important to the Royal Commission.

"We have higher rates of disability, of First Nations people than we have with non-Indigenous people," she said.

"The current number is about 38 per cent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living with a disability.

"For First Nations people living with a disability that are adults - that's 18-65 - it rises to 48 per cent and for children - so that's 0-18 - it's 22 per cent.

"We have a significant community in our First Nations community that have a disability and we need to look at how we can provide better support and also help create a nation where the experience of and the enjoyment of human rights is real because there are significant barriers at the moment, which are hindering that full enjoyment.

"It's really important that First Nations people with disability, family, advocacy groups, community controlled organisations take this opportunity to highlight from their experiences what they are seeing."

Ms Mason said she hopes to get many wide-ranging stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability and their family and carers, in response to the new First Nations issues paper.

"We're the most researched people on the planet, we know that," she said.

"We're really aware of that fatigue when it comes to leaders responding inquiries but we're saying this has never been done before, this is the first time we've really been able to focus on this issue.

"we're really encouraging leaders, community members, mums and dads, anyone who has an insight into our community members with disability to tell some or a substantial story to us."

'Tell the truth'

For  Jake, this is an opportunity for truth-telling.

He said as well as truth-telling on a government and royal commission level, there is a need to educate people across the country.

He said this work needs to start in schools.

"Tell the truth, rip the scab off the wound. We've been treading water, our mob, for years and years and years. We're not worried because we know these stories have to be told so that wider Australia knows what we went through," he said.

"And it's not just saying 'poor you', we really want to empower these stories of the bad but also the good of what we've been through."

Ms Mason said the process of telling stories to the Royal Commission could help find a better way forward for First Nations people with disability.

"All of us can talk about things that aren't working, what the problem is, that's easy described, those lived experiences," she said.

"But what First Nations people can do with wisdom is, importantly, describe how things could be." 

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