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

Language barriers

Even if people are aware of services, language is a further major barrier that hinders full participation. There are “structural systemic barriers”, such as a lack of professional interpreters and translated materials on available support services, that both “seriously impact on effective participation” of individuals from CALD and non-English speaking backgrounds in the NDIS.

The NDIS legislation requires that information is provided in accessible formats and technologies and “to the maximum extent possible … in the language, mode of communication and terms which that person is most likely to understand”. This has not been successfully implemented for people with limited English proficiency.

These issues are made worse by the lack of proper support and cultural awareness in the medical and disability sector. Many service providers who participated in a consultation conducted by RCOA in 2016 reported that their clients had been turned away by disability services and other health institutions because they were not set up to work with people with limited English language skills or with those from a refugee background. Many support workers do not speak the languages of their clients or understand their culture.

Further, when services have taken on clients, service providers have reported that interpreters were not being used adequately. AMPARO highlights the experience of one individual with a disability from a CALD background, who mentioned “when in hospital the interpreter isn’t available any time, so very hard to communicate with doctor”, and “do not know how to find out, how to contact, how to talk”. Even when interpreters are used, concerns were reported about the quality of translation and the professional conduct of some of the interpreters. There have been reports of interpreters asking personal questions, and giving out personal opinions and advice, rather than translating directly with the individual who is being supported,

Access to professional accredited interpreters and translated materials is necessary to empower the individuals with a disability from refugee backgrounds to articulate their needs and goals. It gives them a better chance in utilising the full range of supports and services they are entitled to. Further, the failure to provide professional advice through a trained interpreter may amount to a breach of legal or ethical obligations.

In 2017, the NDIS launched their national policy in relation to translating and interpreting supports. Subsequently, NDIS participants with limited English proficiency are now able to access Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National to implement funded supports in their plan. NDIS registered service providers are required to obtain a client code with TIS National to utilise the service, which is free of charge for service providers when supporting non-English speaking NDIS participants. No limits have been set in regard to time caps or frequency of use for TIS National supports; all activities in relation to the implementation of participants’ plans are covered in the Commonwealth’s arrangement.

The NDIA should be applauded for its policy response to community concerns that language services were unfunded; the sector feared that CALD communities would miss out on the full benefits of the NDIS due to language barriers and lack of access to professional accredited interpreters.

Recommendation 11: Provide full access to interpreting services

The NDIA, through their CALD Strategy, should to develop and widely disseminate simple and easily understood information in English and in languages other than English which details how NDIS participants can access the free professional translating and interpreting supports.

Consideration should be given to develop clearer guidelines regarding the use of interpreters and translators in the NDIS.

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