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

Adequate housing and transport

Appropriate housing for humanitarian entrants with a disability is crucial in enabling them to live a healthy, productive and dignified life. Many service providers reported concerns about the lack of appropriate short-term and long-term accommodation for this group.

AMPARO Advocacy (AMPARO) reported that there have been incidents where applications for housing have been left unprocessed, and disability supports have not been allocated due to language barriers.

Lack of adequate accommodation is also highlighted as a concern by disability service providers. As one service provider in Victoria reported to RCOA in a consultation in late 2015:

They get to short-term accommodation and they can’t even get inside the home, if there’s stairs to get in. And they can’t use the toilet because a lot of toilets in Australia are those little narrow ones and if they need help to get in, there’s no support for them. They end up going to the toilet outside. We’ve had a few clients in that situation, they can’t shower on their own. We had a client recently, for the first 14 months in Australia they weren’t able to have a shower. That kind of situation is not acceptable. Most clients, you have to wait about six weeks before an OT [occupational therapist] can come, at the earliest and make an assessment, and then another six weeks before their first piece of equipment will arrive. Modifications for the home to make them accessible need to be paid for by the client or by the landlord. As you will appreciate if you’re already negotiating with the landlord to take a client who has no employment history, no rental history, can’t speak English, and they need to spend a few thousand on modifications to the home to accommodate them, the chances of getting a home are nothing at all.

Another service provider in the same consultation highlighted this issue in the following case study:

In terms of case studies, I often explain about a lady I know for whom it took us a year and she ended up having to keep the short-term accommodation we had for all our families to cycle through because we couldn’t get her anywhere else. And even that wasn’t appropriate. And for the first year the only solution for her for things like showering was that her husband had to carry her to a taxi, that he had to pay for, and the taxi would go to the local sports and aquatic centre, and they have to pay 10 dollars for entry, and then go in, he’d have to carry her in and shower her in the disabled shower, go back in the taxi and then go home. And he ended up with quite severe back issues just from trying to help her, because being unable to move she was not light, and it made extra concerns for him as well.

While some settlement services provide excellent support in assisting entrants into housing, there appears to be no requirement that they demonstrate an understanding of what ‘disability-friendly’ housing is, nor is there any requirement for service providers to have training in this area, or to seek recommendations on what an individual may need from an OT, who would be a specialist in this area.

Again, those who are proposed are often more vulnerable as the proposer may have organised housing prior to the person arriving and with little understanding the needs of the person.

The affordability and accessibility of public transport also acts as a significant barrier to the social and economic participation of newly arrived refugees with a disability. Additionally, the lack of accessibility and affordable transport options limit the ability of humanitarian entrants with a disability to access mainstream and disability related service systems. Having access to accessible and affordable transport and being able to understand the way that transport works is essential to making appointments, participating in social activities, and accessing education and employment.

Recommendation 6: Provide appropriate housing for people arriving with a disability

The Department of Social Services should ensure that housing settlement providers have adequate training in the needs of people with a disability, have access to appropriate housing stock, and contingencies for when a house in found to be manifestly inappropriate and a lease has to be broken.


Diversitat Settlement and Community Programs, Diversitat Disability Findings Report (2016), 7.

Refugee Council of Australia, Literature Review on Housing for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (September 2013), 2.

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

Refugee Council of Australia, Australia’s Response to a World in Crisis: Community Views on Planning for the 2016-17 Refugee and Humanitarian Program (March 2016), 75.

AMPARO, The NDIS and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities: Aiming High for Equitable Access in Queensland (AMPARO Advocacy Inc, October 2016), 20.

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