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FutureAbility Project Report 2016: Multicultural communities getting NDIS-ready

Authors: Colleen Martin and Emma Jacobs

Cover of FutureAbility reportSettlement Services International (SSI) have developed a project to help people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities get access to disability services. The project is called FutureAbility, and is funded by the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). In 2016, SSI released a report summarising the process and findings of the project’s first four phases.


According to the 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), 18.5% of the total population of Australia have a disability. In July 2016, the Australian government introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). NDIS is a policy reform aiming to improve the lives of people with disabilities by strengthening the national disability services and support system. The scheme will make people with disabilities eligible for allocated funding to buy disability-related services and supports.

As the disability services sector undergoes this expansion, it is important to take into account Australia’s CALD communities. Historically, newly arrived migrants and refugees have under-utilised disability services and supports. SSI recognised a gap in the execution of NDIS in regard to people with disabilities from CALD backgrounds. In response, they delivered FutureAbility to ensure that these people have choice and control in accessing services. The project’s main role is to support the development of culturally-appropriate support and information.

FutureAbility project

The four phases of the project included:

  • Phase one: Conducting two “scoping studies” to investigate the existing state of the CALD service sector. Through this, the SSI identified the issues and gaps that NDIS needs to address. They used this data to develop the FutureAbility DataCube, an interactive tool providing estimates on demographics of disability in CALD communities.
  • Phase two: Reviewing the suitability of NDIS for the CALD service sector, to see whether or not it addresses the issues identified in phase one. This phase was not implemented as planned due to time and resource limitations.
  • Phase three: Supporting the CALD service sector to enter or transition to NDIS. This included providing consultation on the transition process; developing policies; and distributing funds to CALD organisations.
  • Phase four: Educating CALD communities on NDIS and disability issues. In this phase, FutureAbility conducted education and awareness-raising sessions in 13 different languages. They promoted these sessions through translated flyers, ads on ethnic radio, a weekly newsletter, presentations and forums.


Through data collection, the FutureAbility project found that:

  • 10% of people with disabilities in Australia will be eligible for funded services and support under NDIS.
  • Of these, 25% will have been born overseas and 14.8% born in Non-English Speaking (NES) countries.
  • However, there will be only 15 overseas-born recipients for every 100 Australian-born service recipients. This suggests a noticeable under-representation of people with disabilities from CALD backgrounds in the current support systems.

The project also identified a number of gaps in mainstream disability organisations’ capacity to work with people from CALD backgrounds. The report states that in order to improve this, the government must develop a CALD service sector of its own. It must also promote inclusivity in the mainstream disability services sector. The report found that the areas needing change include:

  • a lack of cultural competency within the mainstream disability organisations
  • a need for specific information about new communities that infrequently access support services; and
  • a need for in-language information about NDIS for CALD communities (including bilingual and bicultural staff).

After phase four, the FutureAbility project found an increase in knowledge about NDIS in the 13 targeted language groups. SSI took great strides with the FutureAbility project to increase awareness and bring mainstream disability organisations in contact with CALD organisations.

The report states that SSI would like to continue building on the momentum it gained with the FutureAbility project, provided it receives the funding to do so. In this capacity, the FutureAbility project model can be adapted nationwide to ensure long-term access to the NDIS for Australian multicultural communities.

Read the report

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