Refugee Council of Australia
Young boy with hearing aid sitting with family

Barriers and exclusions: The support needs of newly arrived refugees with a disability

The concept of choice

The premise of the NDIS is that individuals with a disability have the right to participate in the community and pursue their identified goals. Those who are eligible to access the NDIS now have much more choice, with a person-centred approach being at the heart of the NDIS. However, “choice” may be an unfamiliar concept in some CALD communities, especially those with more community or collectivist focused cultures.

A disability service program that is individually tailored requires that people with a disability are fully aware of what services they are eligible for, and how to use these services to improve their quality of life.While choice is vital, and is a reflection of the social model of disability emphasised in the CRPD, adequate support must be provided in a user-driven model for users to be able to make a fully informed choice.

For refugees and humanitarian entrants to be able to make a fully informed choice, they will need extra support, including appropriate access to professional interpreters, and sufficient casework support to help them navigate the NDIS and other mainstream services. One key and persistent barrier for newly arrived refugees with a disability and their families is that they do not know what they need, what services could benefit their individual needs, nor what the Australian disability service system could provide.

The provision for Support Coordination funding in an NDIS Plan, once eligibility and planning has been completed, is crucial to assist newly arrived refugees with a disability and their families, to utilise their NDIS funding to its full potential and gain the supports they need. Without funded support and guidance to link to appropriate NDIS Providers, and assistance to identify service needs and goals, many refugees with an NDIS Plan have little knowledge and support to use it.

The NDIS system is a complex one for people who are English speakers, and have a history within the disability service system in Australia – for those who are new to all of this, the process is overwhelming. One refugee health provider has found a number of NDIS Plans which are under-utilised because of this support, knowledge and language barrier.

Recommendation 9: Provide support to use the NDIS effectively

Refugee and humanitarian entrants with a disability should be provided with additional settlement support in order to understand and navigate access to the NDIS through the Humanitarian Settlement Program’s Specialised and Intensive Services. This should include additional hours to receive casework support so they can attend appointments and assessments, and support in completing the application for the NDIS.

Limited knowledge of service provisions, rights and entitlements

Many humanitarian entrants with a disability are not being provided with information about the support that they are entitled to.Some do not know of the NDIS itself. Others find it challenging to navigate the website or to get information about the program.There is a lack of educational programs for new entrants,especially as some people may not even identify themselves as having a disability. Community consultations conducted by Advance Diversity Services found that a number of eligible individuals had not been informed of their eligibility for the NDIS. Many who require the services do not know which services are available to them and how they work. Further, the registration process is highly complex.

Research by Julie King et al. on the experiences of people with a disability from refugee backgrounds in Australia noted that refugee communities had low expectations of the services they are entitled to. This is especially true when people compare the level of support they received in their home country or country of asylum. When asked about the quality of services, one carer mentioned “compared to where he was, wow”, and another mentioned “we don’t want to have any trouble with them [service providers]”.

While people may feel satisfied with services that are better than those they have so far experienced, or because they fear undermining their place in Australian society, this does not mean they are able to fully and equally participate in Australian society, as required under the CRPD and Refugee Convention.

The Disability Services Commissioner noted that “many people with a disability and their families are still afraid to voice their concerns to the service providers”, and there is an element of “fear of retribution, and loss of valuable services or relationships.” The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) notes that information and outreach is failing to reach CALD communities.

There is no centralised resource to provide information to link humanitarian arrivals to appropriate service providers, and new arrivals with a disability will not be automatically moved to the NDIS due to lack of service history in Australia.This makes this group vulnerable to being overlooked.

Recommendation 10: Provide information on the NDIS

Refugee and humanitarian entrants with a disability should receive information on the NDIS in their preferred language or communication method, including through the use of professional accredited interpreters, translated material or any other communication method that suits their needs. This information should contain information about the services they can receive, including information about independent advocacy services and how to access those supports if required.


AMPARO, The NDIS and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities: Aiming High for Equitable Access in Queensland (AMPARO Advocacy Inc, October 2016), 31.

Advance Diversity Services, Issues That Refugees with Disabilities Face and Recommendations on Improving Policy and Practice to Better Support This Group, 1-3.

Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), Access and Equity in the Context of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (June 2015), 2.

Julie King, Niki Edwards, Ignacio Correa-Velez, Sara Hair, and Maureen Fordyce, ‘Disadvantage and disability: Experiences of people from refugee backgrounds with disability living in Australia’ (2016) 3 Disability and the Global South 844, 851.

Disability Services Commissioner (Vic), Families and Service Providers Working Together (Occasional Paper, No 2, February 2014), 12.

Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria, Talking Disability: Under-Representation of Culturally Diverse Communities in Disability Support (May 2014), 5.

Melanie Davern, Deborah Warr, Karen Block, Camille La Brooy, Ashraf Hosseini, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rebecca Roberts, Humanitarian Arrivals in Melbourne (McCaughey VicHealth Community Wellbeing Unit, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, 2016), 3.

Diversitat Settlement and Community Programs, Diversitat Disability Findings Report (2016), 6.

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