At the age of 18, Wiradjuri man, Brian Edwards was diagnosed with a disability.
The active, young, Aboriginal man who had completed an apprenticeship in landscaping lost his eyesight after developing a brain tumor. In 2011 he found out the tumor was the size of a cricket ball on the surface of his brain.
Before he was diagnosed, he identified himself as an active member of the Indigenous community. He played rugby league for more than 10 years with his local club, the Redfern All Blacks and potentially had a chance to move forward with the West Tigers.
Mr Edwards says it's a real challenge for Aboriginal people living with a disability.
“Aboriginal people experience disability differently to other Australians.”
In August the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), hit the milestone of engaging 100,000 participants, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise only around five per cent of these.
This is despite the fact they are 70 per cent more likely to experience disability than the general population. The figures are even more pronounced for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 14 and younger, who are more than twice as likely to have a disability as other children.
Mr Edwards, who is the Project Support Officer at The Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (AbSec), says the focus needs to be on disadvantaged First Nations people.
“It’s not acceptable that those who need the NDIS the most are benefiting from it the least.”
The 27-year-old is currently developing his NDIS disability support plan, which will provide funds to help him access occupational therapy and keep his guide dog healthy.
Mr Edwards is familiar with the NDIS through working in the disability sector, but many other Aboriginal people have been left out from the new funding system.
AbSec is calling for long-term funding for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, to equip them to provide disability services to their local communities.
Mr Edwards says that for Aboriginal people, disability is a difficult concept.
“There’s no word meaning ‘disability’ in our languages – it’s not a widely recognised concept in our culture. So there’s a bit of a communication barrier from the start.”
“Lifting the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing the NDIS is absolutely vital to closing the gap in health and wellbeing.”
He says it's important to remember that there are also differences in the ways Aboriginal people access support and services.
“When Aboriginal people have a problem, they go to their families and communities for support. That’s our way. So to make the NDIS accessible to Aboriginal people, you need to equip our own communities to provide the services in a culturally appropriate way.”
The Commonwealth Government aims to provide the NDIS to 460,000 people by 2019. AbSec is advocating for urgent action to ensure that the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants will reflect the large number of our people living with disability.
“Lifting the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing the NDIS is absolutely vital to closing the gap in health and wellbeing,” Mr Edwards said.
“The NDIS is being billed as a revolution in social services – but its impact can’t be truly revolutionary unless all of us are on-board.”