Refugee Council of Australia
Parliament House, Canberra

Submission into the implementation of the national disability insurance scheme in NSW

The interface between settlement case support and disability services


Although it is often thought that people from refugee backgrounds receive ‘intensive support’, this may not always be the case. Mainstream disability services are generally unfamiliar with the specific needs of new arrivals coming from refugee backgrounds. There is also a lack of knowledge and competency to work with people from culturally diverse backgrounds who struggle through multiple layers of discrimination. There is no ‘specific case-management funding’ to support new arrivals through the NDIS planning and assessment processes. Other states have noted that independent advocacy services are overwhelmed with demand and often deprioritise assisting CALD people with a disability from accessing the NDIS.

The NDIS model ‘assumes empowerment’, which can hinder participation from diverse communities. The NDIS assumes that individuals from minority groups and those for whom English is not their first language are informed about the support that is available to them, and that they are able to “articulate” their goals in a way that can take advantage of the services that they may be entitled to. The structure of NDIS services assumes that the person accessing the scheme understands his or her own needs, understands Australia’s complex system of services, and has proficient English. In contrast, newly arrived refugees arriving in NSW tend to have extremely limited capacity to choose services. They do not understand service types as many have had no access to any type of specialised disability therapy prior to arrival. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, and day programs may have no equivalent in their country of origin. Most people with intellectual impairment have never been able to go to school before, with many being home-bound. In addition they are likely to have limited understanding of their rights in Australia, and little capacity to advocate for their interests, so without intervention, are wholly dependent on the advice of others around them.

Newly arrived refugees with a disability do not have enough knowledge and support to be able to negotiate the services available to them, especially when the NDIS is designed to be a consumer-driven service. Settlement services noted that it takes around 50 hours to support a newly arrived person to complete the NDIS referral, which these agencies are not funded to do: the funding structure of SIS case management does not fit the comprehensive long-term case management required to get a person through the NDIS.

The Victorian Refugee Health Network has highlighted the need for “culturally inclusive approaches” and for consultation of individuals with a disability from refugee backgrounds. As the NDIS assumes an “understanding of needs”, it is essential that the model of support takes into account past and present experiences that may affect an individual’s use of services.

Providers are also concerned that the extra needs of refugees with disabilities will not be met because of the limited resources to support complex needs. A service provider in NSW mentioned that they are wary of making referrals to SIS, as they may not be referred to a case manager equipped to support people with a disability. There are few disability support workers and interpreters who are familiar with both the needs and experiences of refugees and those with disability. Having many clients can also make it hard for caseworkers to make appropriate referrals and support their clients. There is currently insufficient funding in settlement services programs to help people find appropriate disability and health-related services. Diversitat notes that there is a need for support and early intervention as part of on-arrival settlement to prevent individuals from getting ‘lost in the system. There is also a lack of collaboration between existing mainstream disability services and settlement services, which results in services failing to meet the specific needs of humanitarian entrants with a disability.

Access to culturally appropriate services and translating and interpreting support

In May 2018, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) released its 2018 Cultural and Linguistic Diverse Strategy. This strategy “focuses on ensuring that the NDIS is delivered in a manner that respects and takes into account the language and cultural needs of individuals needed to achieve full participation in the NDIS.” The long awaited release of the CALD Strategy is welcome, as it seeks to ensure that people from diverse backgrounds have equal access to the NDIS.

Importantly, the CALD Strategy commits the NDIA to engage with communities, ensure that information is accessible in multiple languages, increase community capacity to participate in the NDIS, and improve monitoring and evaluation of the participation of people from diverse backgrounds. The strategy recognises that the NDIS needs to develop sophisticated, targeted data collection as well as skills in cultural competency, so it can engage with people of culturally and diverse backgrounds.

Confusion remains over disability service providers eligibility to access fee-free interpreting through the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS). The NDIA did not enter into a contractual arrangement with TIS until 2017, creating significant barriers for people or the provision who do not speak English.

29 While TIS is now funded for NDIS services, concerns have been raised about the lack of interpreters and cultural competency in the NDIS program and within NDIS contractors. There is significant work still needed to be done by the NDIA to ensure full participation of people from refugee backgrounds. It is therefore disappointing that there are no other commitments from the NDIA on how they will engage refugee and migrant communities, and no extra funding to ensure this participation. Unfortunately, there is no effective mechanism in the strategy to measure and implement the CALD strategy. Nor does the strategy ensure participation from people with a disability from migrant and refugee backgrounds in the monitoring and evaluation of the NDIS

Exclusion of refugees on temporary visas

A key concern with the NDIS is the exclusion of those on temporary protection visas who are not eligible for the scheme, as they will not satisfy the residency requirements to access the NDIS. Service providers also highlighted that these refugees have very limited access to settlement services, which will hinder settlement outcomes and create prolonged health, social and financial issues.

NDIS has replaced State-based disability services, so refugees on temporary protection visas and people seeking asylum will now be denied access to most disability services, regardless of their need. The refugee determination process can sometimes take years, leaving people seeking asylum with a disability (or their children) without necessary therapy for many years. The number of people on temporary protection visas is growing, and restricting an individual with a disability from accessing support services will lead to emotional and financial hardship for the individual and their family, and prevent their inclusion and participation into Australian society.

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