Aboriginal people experience disability at a greater rate than non-Indigenous Australians.
Census data shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have higher rates of disability than non-Indigenous people across all age groups. Our kids under the age of 14 are more than twice as likely to have a disability, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 35–54 are 2.7 times as likely to have a disability as non-Indigenous people of the same age.
Hearing loss and intellectual disability are particular problems. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under 15 are 3.4 times more likely to be deaf, while all Aboriginal Australians are nearly four times as likely to have an intellectual disability as the general population.
Altogether, Aboriginal people of all ages are almost twice as likely to need assistance with a core activity — those things we need to do every day, like getting dressed and feeding ourselves.
Yet we access support services at a lower rate than other Australians do.
There are many reasons for this. The very concept of disability is foreign in many Aboriginal communities:
“There is no equivalent word for ‘disability’ in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages … Consequently, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities may not have a general concept of disability, resulting in underreporting of disability and underutilisation of disability services.”
– Australian Human Rights Commission’s Social Justice and Native Title Report 2015
It’s also part of our culture to principally lean on family for care and support. It’s been noted by researchers that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability are mostly cared for within their extended family, rather than by professional service providers. This is the same across remote, rural and urban areas of Australia.
I grew up without being accepted. I had to choose between my identity as deaf or Aboriginal. I went to a deaf school and I didn’t have the same opportunities as my brother and sister to celebrate being Aboriginal. I’m hoping to set up a group where people like me can be proud to be both deaf and Aboriginal without feeling forced to pick one.
At TAFE they have opportunities for Aboriginal students but I wasn’t able to participate because I’m deaf. A lot of Aboriginal organisations aren’t set up to communicate with deaf people and the Deaf Society doesn’t understand my culture. I’m just tired of being left out.
Taken from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Social Justice and Native Title Report 2015
We can provide support to more Aboriginal people with disability by building tailored, culturally appropriate services.
It’s important that Aboriginal people have Aboriginal-run services to turn to. This is part of the Federal Government’s policy for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), but needs more attention, funding and support.
Aboriginal people in general have a lack of trust in public services, owing to our long history of abuse by government.
“For Aboriginal people, a collective legacy of negative experiences with mainstream agencies and services has led to a significant degree of fear and mistrust.” – NSW Ombudsman’s Report, 2010
This needs to be understood and respected through adequate public funding for our own, Aboriginal-controlled services, run by Aboriginal staff members.
Right now, the Aboriginal disability support sector is small, but with support from organisations like AbSec, it is growing.
Aboriginal people and the NDIS: What AbSec wants for NSW
AbSec is advocating for greater investment in Aboriginal community-controlled disability services in NSW, because we recognise how vital these are for the welfare of our children, families and communities.
NSW is home to more people with disability than any other state or territory. Yet in the initial round of Federal Government funding for the NDIS, our state received only 5% of the funding pool for sector readiness (source: NSW Auditor-General’s Report, Building the readiness of the non-government sector for the NDIS).
To make real strides for Aboriginal people with disability in NSW, AbSec is calling for:
- An increase in funding to develop the Aboriginal community-controlled disability services sector
- Understanding that our sector needs to be built up before it can be expected to thrive in an open market
- A long-term funding guarantee to ensure that our sector has the ongoing support it needs
A commitment to tailored Aboriginal services already exists in the National Disability Insurance Agency’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Strategy. Now we need both Commonwealth and State governments to walk the talk and show their commitment is real.