Tourism Australia Head of Indigenous Aff

NDIA plans ‘doubling down’ on exclusion for marginalised communities   

[by Emma Edwards]

Image: supplied

Plans to introduce independent assessments to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will amount to a ‘doubling down’ on exclusion for some of Australia’s most marginalised peoples, says Synapse Director of Strategy and Engagement, Adam Schickerling.

Highlighting the NDIA’s plans to outsource access and plan review assessments to a panel of health workers, Australia’s brain injury peak body said that the proposal is taking an “already flawed access process and making it infinitely worse”.

“If a ‘tick and flick’ observation method is illogical and offensive for the broader disability sector, it’s entirely inappropriate for marginalised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

“Research tells us that marginalised Indigenous people with a brain injury are some of the most vulnerable people in Australian society, and a lack of culturally safe assessments and services impede access to supports. Unless the issues surrounding culturally appropriate engagement and assessment are addressed with and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, they will continue to be effectively excluded from the NDIS.”

While Synapse has co-designed a culturally appropriate cognitive screening tool, it now fears the NDIA’s planned approach signals an “abject lack of understanding of what person-centred truly means”.

“The creation of The Guddi Way was a cultural process using ‘Proper Way’, from how we engage with communities through to the assessment methods we use and the way it’s delivered. Pilots registered extremely high levels of previously unidentified brain injury and complex disability,” says Mr Schickerling.

“What we discovered was that many of those who present as potentially having cognitive challenges self-report differently – they don’t typically, through mainstream screening, identify as having a brain injury or disability. The reasons for that may include the level of disadvantage they have experienced, and hence expectations of quality of life and what constitutes a reportable incident, and a lack of trust in the people asking the questions, creating unwillingness to engage or expose vulnerabilities.

“Governments talk about ‘hard to reach’ groupings but, in reality, Indigenous communities aren’t hard to reach if you go about it the right way.”

Calling the NDIA’s proposed assessment process “a step backwards”, he added.

“For many disabilities – including brain injury – apparent functional capacity can be very different to actual, and dependent on a multitude of factors as to how it presents at any given time. And that’s without reference to the stressful and potentially humiliating experience of having to ‘prove’ your disability to a complete stranger and within a few hours.

“This proposal flies in the face of every advancement that has been made around disability service-provision under the NDIS. It’s both disappointing and deeply worrying. However, Synapse is committed to continuing to work with the NDIA to improve both access and equity.”

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